06 May 2015 | Online since 2003



31 October 2013|News

Plants use latex to harm insects and heal wounds


Plants use natural latex in different ways, to help poison insects or rapidly heal wounds, a new study has found.

Scientists from the Universities of Oxford, Sheffield and Freiburg tested latex samples from two different types of plant.

They found that Euphorbia plants use slow-drying latex to keep insects in contact with their noxious sap whereas Ficus plants, such as the weeping fig, use fast-drying latex to seal wounds more quickly.

Latex is a milky fluid found in around 10% of flowering plants, and is the main constituent of natural rubber. The team developed a new way of testing the mechanical properties of latex, and their research is published today in Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The work was led by Dr Chris Holland, formerly of Oxford University, who now works in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Sheffield.

'When injured, the latex of Euphorbia plants takes a long time to harden,' said Dr Holland. 'This gives the plant time to deliver a cocktail of poisonous compounds to stop biting insects. Ficus latex on the other hand hardens rapidly, sealing the wound to prevent infection and fluid loss.'

The team took latex samples from Euphorbia and Ficus plants grown in the Oxford University Botanic Garden and a commercial nursery in Freiburg. They chose species related to those used for industrial latex production, but which had developed naturally. This kept the work relevant to industry while ensuring that the plants' properties came about through natural, not artificial, selection.

Euphorbia is the fourth-largest genus of flowering plants, with around 5,000 species currently identified. Some species are cactus-like in appearance, and many of the plants thought to be cactuses in Africa actually belong to the Euphorbia genus. Weeping figs (Ficus benjamina) are common office plants, and in natural conditions the trees can grow up to 30m. Insights into the properties of their latex and its biological origins were made possible by collaboration between materials scientists and biologists.

'This study highlights the intellectual advances and fundamental understanding that can be achieved when two normally separate disciplines interact as closely as we did,' said Dr Georg Bauer from the University of Freiburg's Plant Biomechanics Group.

The researchers hope that these studies, which cross the interface between physical and life sciences, will help us to better understand the ways materials are used in nature.

"This project is about being inspired by nature to discover and implement things that can help mankind to face the challenges that the future brings,' said Professor Fritz Vollrath from Oxford University's Department of Zoology. 'The insights from this study could show us where to look for natural latex with certain properties for industrial applications. It could also enable us to design new synthetic polymers, inspired by nature."

Download




Comments


No comments posted yet. Be the first to post a comment

To post comment without approval login or register

Display name

Please enter your name

Email (optional)
Comment

Please enter your comment

Post Comment

Your comment submitted successfully.Please wait for admin approval.

Some error on your process.Please try one more time.



Jobs


27 April 2015
Working Livestock Manager, Goodwood Home Farm
Goodwood Home Farm has 3,400 acres of organically managed farm land, producing award winning dairy products, beef, lamb and p...

15 April 2015
Operations Manager - Seed Plant - East Midlands
At least 3 years previous operational management/team leadership responsibility in either Agriculture, Horticulture or FMCG m...

5 May 2015
Band 5 Theatre Practitioner/Staff Nurse
Chase Farm Hospital:. Chase Farm Hospital on Thursday 11th June 2015. The Operating Theatres at Chase Farm Hospital the Royal...

24 April 2015
Service Apprentice
An understanding of agricultural machinery and its application in agriculture. We are currently recruiting a Service Apprenti...

4 May 2015
Senior Electronics Engineer (FPGA)
Systems can range from a single FPGA to extreme DAQ systems with many thousands of FPGAs and 10G links feeding large CPU/GPU ...



Top stories you may have missed
10 April 2015 | Agri Safety

The permanent eradication of Bovine Viral Diarrhoea [BVD] in Scottish cattl...


10 April 2015 | Dairy

The abolition of milk quotas in Europe on 1st April has resulted in a numbe...


10 April 2015 | Cattle

The top 14 milk producing countries in Europe will increase their productio...


10 April 2015 | News

Matt Ware is the NFU's head of government and parliamentary affairs, based ...


10 April 2015 | Arable

There is a 'desperate need' to improve farmgate returns given low incomes a...


9 April 2015 | Arable

Rapid stem extension, after a slow start to spring, is likely to create spl...


9 April 2015 | Finance

The time has come for landlords to expect to see reductions in farm rents, ...


8 April 2015 | Cattle

Cogent’s reputation as a source of the highest calibre sires has been enhan...


8 April 2015 | Arable

The spread of exotic and aggressive strains of a plant fungus is presenting...


7 April 2015 | Animal Health

The FSA’s new Food Crime Unit wants the industry to share information, some...