The Thorny, Gender-Switching, Giant Water Lily

There is a species of water lily that is known as Victoria amazonica. While lily-pads may not seem interesting to some, this particular plant has a certain grandeur about it based on its size alone. They can grow to be up to seven feet in diameter.

Being as large as they are can be both beneficial and harmful at the same time. While having an immense upper surface is good for attracting potential pollinators and performing photosynthesis, this could mean that the lower surface ends up being a hefty, sought-out meal for hungry fish. To prevent this from happening, these water-lilies have developed a system of thorns on their underside.

Their flowers are unique as well. When it is time for them to be fertilized, they give off a fruity aroma to draw in potential pollinators. Once the pollinators get there, they are welcomed by particular warmth. The flowers themselves generate heat through a process known as thermogenesis. Therefore, any pollinators that enter the flower are offered a warm place to stay for the night.

It is in the plant’s best interest for the pollinator to stay until morning. This is because these “floral lounges” have the ability to change gender overnight. They are female when the pollinators get there, allowing them to be pollinated. By the time the pollinators are preparing the leave, the gender-swapping has already occurred. Therefore, the pollinators are pollinated once more upon leaving the structure.

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Stranger than Fiction: Spider-Goats

Genetically modifying organisms to suit our needs may seem like science-fiction to some, but it has already happened. One such example stemmed from Nexia Biotechnologies’ idea to splice the genes for spider silk protein into goats. When the splicing was successful, a female goat would then produce the protein in her milk. Once filtered out of the milk, the protein could be used to create an incredibly strong, natural silk. The material made from this silk was termed Biosteel™. Biosteel™ can be used to make thin, flexible, bullet-proof armor and can also be used in aerospace technology. Thus, much of it was bought by the U.S. government upon its creation. Each female goat that was capable of producing the protein in her milk sold for approximately half a million dollars. This just goes to show that being a creative scientist can really pay off.

One other interesting bit of information regarding this study is that the goats were, at one point, housed at the old Air force Base in my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York.

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