The Worlds Shiniest Living Thing
2012-09-12 0:00

From: Not Exactly Rocket Science



In the forests of central Africa, theres a plant that looks like its 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. Theyre 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 Pollias 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 Smithsonians Robert Faden, Vognolini sought out Pollia, and with help from Kews Paula Rudall, she found a sample of the plant. It was collected from Ghana in 1974 but its still as vivid as ever. (Unlike pigments, structural colours dont 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 hasnt just found the first strong iridescent colours in a plant; shes 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

Professor: Reason Itself Is A White Male Construct
2015-07-04 3:55
A philosophy and religion professor at Syracuse University gave an interview to The New York Times Thursday in which he critiqued the notion of pure reason as simply being a “white male Euro-Christian construction.” Prof. John Caputo was being interviewed by fellow philosophy professor George Yancy for the 13th installment of an interview series Yancy conducts with philosophers regarding racial topics. Given its emphasis on first principles ...
The Broken Window Fallacy
2015-07-04 3:48
Youtube description: This short video explains one of the most persistent economic fallacies of our day. Source: youtube.com
Jenji Kohan and the Jewish Hyper-Sexualization of Western Culture
2015-07-04 3:33
As detailed in The Culture of Critique, Freud and his followers regarded anti-Semitism was a universal pathology which had its roots in sexual repression. The theoretical basis for this can be found in Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality where he linked aggression to the frustration of human drives — especially the sex drive. Kevin MacDonald notes that: ...
Confederate History - Dispelling the Myths
2015-07-03 3:28
History books, the media, the school systems, etc abound in falsehoods and inaccuracies of Confederate and Southern history. This fact sheet will help to clarify and dispell some of these rampant inaccuracies. MYTH - The War of 1861 - 1865 was fought over slavery. FACT - Terribly untrue. The North fought the war over money. Plain ...
Gays Rights May Open Door for Pedophile Rights
2015-07-03 3:31
Democrats have attempted to normalize pedophilia as a sexual orientation. A recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage may soon allow pedophiles to argue they are suffering discrimination. “Using the same tactics used by ‘gay’ rights activists, pedophiles have begun to seek similar status arguing their desire for children is a sexual orientation no different than heterosexual or homosexuals,” writes Jack Minor ...
More News »