Page 9

December/January 2012



John Ankers Links:

Journal of Nanobiotechnology



Simon Makin



Simon Makin

Tis the season to be jolly: A time when geese are getting fat and red-nosed reindeers are given their first big break. At Christmas, your halls may be decked with holly but it’s ivy that grows over everything else. But have you ever wondered how ivy is able to climb up walls? English ivy (species name Hedera Helix) makes its own glue-like substance out of natural nanoparticles. The roots of each plant produce millions of tiny, sticky spheres - each 100,000 times smaller than a holly berry. This remarkable feat helps the ivy to bend and twist around trees, chimneys

and probably even parked-up sleighs given the chance. New research (published in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology) has found a way to turn ivy plants into natural factories for these adhesive particles which also have another hidden talent: they also absorb ultraviolet light. In a few years’ time you might be using an ivy-based glue to stick stamps on your Christmas cards and – if you live in the southern hemisphere – wear an ivy-based sunscreen whilst you eat your turkey.

The mystery of vanishing bee populations is slowly being solved. Recent research shows that bumblebees exposed to common pesticides suffer worse knock-on effects than anyone had suspected. The research looked at two chemicals and found that colonies exposed to one of them produced fewer adult workers from larvae and fewer foraging bees returned safely home. Exposure to the other caused a higher death rate among workers – while colonies exposed to both were more likely to completely fail. These results add evidence to the theory that chemicals might be playing a part in the mysterious ‘colony collapse disorder’ that

has been devastating bumblebee numbers. Such losses could have major consequences: because bees are important for pollinating plants, ecosystems would suffer and crops could fail without them. There is concern too about honeybees, which are also important for their honey (obviously). This research doesn’t necessarily apply to them as they are biologically different to bumblebees, but an investigation earlier this year showed how honeybees are under attack from Varroa mites, which introduce a virus into their bloodstream that drastically shortens their lives. However…

Biologists recently discovered that honeybees have a line of defence against such intrusions that nobody knew about until now. They can bite pests too small to sting (such as the Varroa mite and wax moth larvae), injecting a substance known as 2-heptanone with their mandibles.

This substance paralyses the invaders for up to nine minutes while they are ejected from the hive. While 2-heptanone was previously thought to act as a chemical alarm pheromone to warn other bees, this discovery shows it has the potential to be used as a low-toxicity local anaesthetic.

PA G E 9 • D E C E M B E R / J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2 • I S S U E 9 • G U R U

(Ivy) Flickr • ivy&freckles


Guru Magazine Issue Nine  
Guru Magazine Issue Nine  

It's time to think outside the box. Guru Magazine offers a unique insight into the world around us. Fusing issues of everyday relevance with...