Posts about plants

Flavonoids Reduce Instances of Parkinson’s Disease in Men

Men who eat flavonoid-rich foods such as berries, tea, apples and red wine significantly reduce their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to new research by Harvard University and the University of East Anglia.

The findings add to the growing body of evidence that regular consumption of some flavonoids can have a marked effect on human health. Recent studies have shown that these compounds can offer protection against a wide range of diseases including heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and dementia.

This latest study is the first study in humans to show that flavonoids can protect neurons against diseases of the brain such as Parkinson’s.

Around 130,000 men and women took part in the research. More than 800 had developed Parkinson’s disease within 20 years of follow-up. After a detailed analysis of their diets and adjusting for age and lifestyle, male participants who ate the most flavonoids were shown to be 40 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who ate the least. No similar link was found for total flavonoid intake in women.

“These exciting findings provide further confirmation that regular consumption of flavonoids can have potential health benefits,” said Prof Aedin Cassidy of the Department of Nutrition, Norwich Medical School at UEA.

“This is the first study in humans to look at the associations between the range of flavonoids in the diet and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and our findings suggest that a sub-class of flavonoids called anthocyanins may have neuroprotective effects.”

Prof Gao said: “Interestingly, anthocyanins and berry fruits, which are rich in anthocyanins, seem to be associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease in pooled analyses. Participants who consumed one or more portions of berry fruits each week were around 25 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, relative to those who did not eat berry fruits. Given the other potential health effects of berry fruits, such as lowering risk of hypertension as reported in our previous studies, it is good to regularly add these fruits to your diet.”

Flavonoids are a group of naturally occurring, bioactive compounds found in many plant-based foods and drinks. In this study the main protective effect was from higher intake of anthocyanins, which are present in berries and other fruits and vegetables including aubergines, blackcurrants and blackberries. Those who consumed the most anthocyanins had a 24% reduction in risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The findings must now be confirmed by other large epidemiological studies and clinical trials.

Parkinson’s disease is a progresssive neurological condition affecting one in 500 people. There are few effective drug therapies available.

The result is far from conclusive and even if the result were confirmed the 24% reduction is hardly huge. But since berries are yummy there seem little reason to not tilt toward more berries in your diet.

Related: Full press releaseThe Beneficial Phytochemicals in Vegetables Help Us Lead Healthy LivesBlack Raspberries Alter Hundreds of Genes and Slow Cancer

Photosynthesis: Science Explained

Another very good webcast on a science topic from Crash Course. It is packed with info, thankfully you can pause and rewind as much as you need. Well normally you can, YouTube decided to not let me do that just now 🙁

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How To Make Your Own Pesticide with Ingredients from Your Kitchen

Video by the Singapore National Park Board, on creating your own pesticide with just water, dish-washing liquid, chili, garlic and cooking oil.

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Bleeding Heart Flowers

photo of some bleeding heart flowers

One the first flowers to bloom in my yard this year are some bleeding heart flowers (shown the photo). If I remember right, I planted them last year. I love perennials: I just plant them once and then get to keep enjoying them. I also find that some plants that are supposedly annuals seem to keep coming back (I think the plant must just manage to hang on, even if they often don’t, and so are called annuals). I enjoy gardening a bit, but don’t really spend enough time to know much about it. I just do as much as I feel like – and often am so busy that amounts to not much.

Also known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis they are a rhizomatous perennial plant native to eastern Asia from Siberia south to Japan.

Related links: photos of Spring Tulips from my yard last yearFirst Flowers of Spring (2009)What Are Flowers For?Backyard Wildlife: Turtlegreat sunflower photo with bees

Pepsi Bottles Made of Switch Grass and Other Plants

Pepsi bottles: no more plastic

The bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and other materials. Ultimately, Pepsi plans to also use orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from its food business. The new bottle looks, feels and protects the drink inside exactly the same as its current bottles, said Rocco Papalia, senior vice president of advanced research at PepsiCo.

PepsiCo says it is the world’s first bottle of a common type of plastic called PET made entirely of plant materials. Coca-Cola Co. currently produces a bottle using 30 percent plant-based materials and recently estimated it would be several years before it has a 100 percent plant bottle that’s commercially viable.

“This is the beginning of the end of petroleum-based plastics,” said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of its waste management project. “When you have a company of this size making a commitment to a plant-based plastic, the market is going to respond.”

Coca-Cola said it welcomed other advances in packaging, but noted that it has scaled up use of its own plant-based bottle since introducing it in 2009. It also says it has demonstrated a 100 percent plant bottle in the lab and is still working to ensure it is commercially viable.

There are other plant-based plastics available or in development, but Herskowitz said these are not environmentally preferred because they typically use plants grown solely for that purpose rather than using the estimated 2 billion tons of agricultural waste produced each year. And these alternative plastics cannot be recycled.

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Backyard Wildlife: Robins Attack Holly Tree

photo of robin in a holly tree

Robins like to attack my holly tree and feed on the berries. Getting photos of them is hard but there are lots of them flying around all excited (I did manage to catch one of them in the photo on the left). This tree was actually here when I moved in but I also do try to nurture and add plants that feed wildlife. I like just planting things that will feed and shelter birds (and others) rather than filling bird feeders myself. There is information on how to use your backyard to promote wildlife.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: CrowsBackyard Wildlife: HawkBackyard Wildlife: Fox

The Sahara Wasn’t Always a Desert

Green Sahara

For much of the past 70,000 years, the Sahara has closely resembled the desert it is today. Some 12,000 years ago, however, a wobble in the Earth’s axis and other factors caused Africa’s seasonal monsoons to shift slightly north, bringing new rains to an area nearly the size of the contiguous United States. Lush watersheds stretched across the Sahara, from Egypt to Mauritania, drawing animal life and eventually people.

by some 3,500 years ago the desert had returned. The people vanished.

The twilight of the Green Sahara around 4,500 years ago might have been the perfect time to be hunting at Gobero, said Carlo Giraudi, the team’s geologist. As water sources dried up throughout the region, animals would have been drawn to pocket wetlands, making them easier to kill. Four middens found on the dunes and dated to around that time included hundreds of animal remains, as well as fish bones and clamshells—not usually part of a herder’s diet. “The Green Sahara’s climate was rapidly changing,” said Giraudi, “but just before the lake dried up, the people at Gobero would have thought they were living in a golden period.”

There are many values of science: letting our curious minds learn, giving us cool robots and gadgets and letting us learn about the past (and thus about the ever-changing world we live in).

Related: Ancient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian DesertRare Saharan Cheetahs Photographed“Gladiator” tomb is found in Rome

Monarch Butterflies Use Medicinal Plants

Monarch butterflies eat toxic plants (that they have evolved to tolerate and make the butterflies themselves toxic to predators). They use medicinal plants to treat their offspring for disease, research by Emory biologists shows. When the butterflies are infected by certain parasites the butterflies have a strong preference to lay their eggs on a plant (tropical milkweed) that will help the caterpillar fight the parasite when it eats those leaves (it serves as a drug for them). Their experiments may be the best evidence to date that animals use medication.

Related: Monarch Migration ResearchMonarch Butterfly MigrationEvolution at Work with the Blue Moon Butterfly

Trying to Find Pest Solutions While Hoping Evolution Doesn’t Exist Doesn’t Work

How To Make A Superweed

Melander wondered why some populations of scales were becoming able to resist pesticides. Could the sulfur-lime spray trigger a change in their biology, the way manual labor triggers the growth of callouses on our hands? Melander doubted it. After all, ten generations of scales lived and died between sprayings. The resistance must be hereditary, he reasoned. He sometimes would find families of scales still alive amidst a crowd of dead insects.

This was a radical idea at the time. Biologists had only recently rediscovered Mendel’s laws of heredity. They talked about genes being passed down from one generation to the next, yet they didn’t know what genes were made of yet. But they did recognize that genes could spontaneously change–mutate–and in so doing alter traits permanently.

In the short term, Melander suggested that farmers switch to fuel oil to fight scales, but he warned that they would eventually become resistant to fuel oil as well. In fact, the best way to keep the scales from becoming entirely resistant to pesticides was, paradoxically, to do a bad job of applying those herbicides. By allowing some susceptible scales to survive, farmers would keep their susceptible genes in the scale population. “Thus we may make the strange assertion that the more faulty the spraying this year the easier it will be to control the scale the next year,” Melander predicted.

What’s striking is how many different ways weeds have found to overcome the chemical. Scientists had thought that Roundup was invincible in part because the enzyme it attacks is pretty much the same in all plants. That uniformity suggests that plants can’t tolerate mutations to it; mutations must change its shape so that it doesn’t work and the plant dies. But it turns out that many populations of ryegrass and goosegrass have independently stumbled across one mutation that can change a single amino acid in the enzyme. The plant can still survive with this altered enzyme. And Roundup has a hard time attacking it thanks to its different shape.

Another way weeds fight off Roundup is through sheer numbers. Earlier this year an international team of scientists reported their discovery of how Palmer amaranth resists glyphosate. The plants make the ordinary, vulnerable form of the enzyme. But the scientists discovered that they have many extra copies of the gene for the enzyme–up to 160 extra copies, in fact.

What makes the evolution of Roundup resistance all the more dangerous is how it doesn’t respect species barriers. Scientists have found evidence that once one species evolves resistance, it can pass on those resistance genes to other species. They just interbreed, producing hybrids that can then breed with the vulnerable parent species.

Another great article from Carl Zimmer.

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Spring Tulips

photo of red and yellow tulips by John Hunter

photo of red and yellow tulips by John Hunter

Photo of red and yellow tulips in my yard. This is by far the most tulips that have flowered. The last several years I think there were 3-5 flowers. This year there are 20 in the front yard.

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Undergraduate Student Discovers Herbivorous Spider

Herbivory Discovered in a Spider

A jumping spider from Central America eats mostly plants, according to new research. Spiders were thought to be strictly predators on animals. The spider, Bagheera kiplingi, was described scientifically in the late 1800s, but its vegetarian tendencies were not observed until the 21st century.

“This is the first spider in the world known to deliberately hunt plant parts. It is also the first found to go after plants as a primary food source,” said lead author Christopher Meehan.

Of the approximately 40,000 species of spiders known, Bagheera kiplingi is the only species known to be primarily herbivorous. Ironically, the vegetarian spider is named after the panther in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” The spider inhabits several species of acacia shrubs involved in a well-known mutualism between the acacias and several species of ants.

Previously, very few spiders had been seen consuming plants at all. Some spiders had been observed occasionally eating nectar and pollen, although the bulk of their diet was insects and other small animals.

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