Friday, February 10, 2006

Plants that make crystals that look like plants

Chemical & Engineering News published this fascinating article called "The Secret Life of Plant Crystals" with some wonderful photos of calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals are produced by special cells (called "idioblasts") and the shape of the crystals is unique to each plant.

No one knows exactly why plants make these crystals and the crystals could serve multiple functions. Some of the sharp, needle-like, crystals might help defend plants from being eaten. Some crystals might bind heavy metals or harmful substances and keep them in kind of a molecular toxic waste containment center.

The best feature of this story, though, is the gallery of photos. The Botanic Crystal Fashion Show is composed of excellent pictures, all taken by Harry T. (Jack) Horner at Iowa State University. It's well worth taking a look.

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