The World’s Shiniest Living Thing
2012 09 12

From: Not Exactly Rocket Science



In the forests of central Africa, there’s a plant that looks like it’s growing its own Christmas decorations. Shiny baubles sprout from between its leaves, shimmering in a vibrant metallic blue. Look closer, and other colours emerge – pinpricks of red, orange, green and violet. It looks as if Seurat, or some other pointillist painter, had turned their hand to sculpture.


But these spheres, of course, are no man-made creations. They’re fruit. They are the shiniest fruits in the world. Actually, they are the shiniest living materials in the world, full-stop.


They belong to a plant called Pollia condensata, a tropical metre-tall herb that sprouts its shiny berry-like fruits in clusters up to 40-strong. These little orbs are iridescent – they use special layers of cells, arranged just so, to reflect colours with extraordinary intensity. This trick relies on the microscopic physical structures of the cells, rather than on any chemical pigments. Indeed, the fruits have no blue pigment at all.


In the animal kingdom, such tricks are commonplace – you can see them at work on the wings of a butterfly, the shells of jewel beetles, or the feathers of pigeons, starlings, birds or paradise and even some dinosaurs. But in the plant world, pigments dominate and structural colours were thought to be non-existent are much rarer.


Silvia Vignolini from the University of Cambridge discovered Pollia’s secret at Kew Gardens in the UK. Her group, led by Ullrich Steiner, was scouring the plant world for species that bend light in interesting ways. Under the recommendation of the Smithsonian’s Robert Faden, Vognolini sought out Pollia, and with help from Kew’s Paula Rudall, she found a sample of the plant. It was collected from Ghana in 1974 but it’s still as vivid as ever. (Unlike pigments, structural colours don’t degrade, so the fruits will retain their sheen for decades to come. Some fossils still keep their iridescence.)


Under the microscope, Vignolini saw that the outer part of the fruit consists of three to four layers of thick-walled cells (labelled “1″ in the image below). Each cell contains yet more layers, made of cellulose fibres. The fibres all run parallel to one another, but each layer is slightly rotated against the one above it, producing an elegant spiral.


As light hits the top layer, some gets reflected and the rest passes through. The same thing happens at the next layer, and the next, and so on. Provided the layers are exactly the right distance apart, the reflected beams of light amplify each other to produce exceptionally strong colours. The technical term is “multilayer interference”. Or alternatively: “Ooh, shiny!”



Many animals use such structures to produce colour. This is why, like Pollia fruits, the wings of many butterflies and the feathers of many birds, can still look stunning after years in a fusty museum drawer. By finding the same structures in Pollia, Vignolini has uncovered a great example of convergent evolution, where species from different branches of the tree of life arrive at the same adaptations independently.



But Pollia fruits reflect more light than any bird or butterfly. Vignolini hasn’t just found the first strong iridescent colours in a plant; she’s found the strongest iridescent colours in nature.

[...]



Read the full article at: discovermagazine.com





Related Articles
Starbucks to stop using red food colouring made from crushed beetles
Radioactive glass used in art to highlight fallout in Japan
We are ALL made of Crystals
The Mandrake Plant and its Legend
Neanderthals Found Certain Plants Important, Had Medicine


Latest News from our Front Page

Kansas City Jewish Community Center shooter: “I was an FBI Informant”
2014 04 24
Kansas City Jewish Community Center shooter: “I was an FBI Informant” …… Which is EXACTLY how we called it when this story broke a few weeks back. We also mentioned that the SPLC, just discarded from the FBI “hate” website… Would be the prime benefactor. Ex-KKK Leader Was Given a New Identity Years Before Shooting Glenn Miller Claims He Was an FBI Informant by ...
Meet AISight – The Artificial Intelligence Software Being Installed on CCTV Networks Globally
2014 04 24
If you thought that CCTV cameras tracking your every move in public was bad enough, you’re going to just love AISight (pronounced “eyesight” of course). The invention of a Houston, Texas based company called BRS Labs (which stands for Behavioral Recognition Systems) is headed by former secret service special agent John Frazzini, and this Orwellian surveillance platform brings artificial intelligence ...
Biofuel Made From Corn Waste Less ‘Green’ Than Gasoline
2014 04 24
Biofuel created from corn waste may not be the clean, eco-friendly oil alternative the United States government is hoping for. A new study has found that fuel generated from harvested corn leftovers creates more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline — at least in the short term. The fuel under study, called cellulosic ethanol, has been touted in recent years as a ...
Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king
2014 04 24
Scientists pried open the 850-year-old casket of King Erik the Holy on Wednesday, hoping to find out more about the king, his crown, and his eating habits. "This was a very special occasion, especially considering the importance of Saint Erik religiously in Sweden," Uppsala Cathedral Chaplain Lars Åstrand told The Local. The casket contained the bones of King ...
John Kerry and the Pope set to face off with Jewish Knight Templars on the Temple Mount
2014 04 24
This is the week that supposedly spells the end of the peace process or its end. My money is on a continuation that has no real substance or direction. What’s the alternative? With Passover and Easter over, Secretary Kerry can return to the Middle East crisis. This, after dealing so successfully with crisis in the Ukraine. [Is the author joking? - RIC] With ...
More News »