Science Briefs: Rubber from dandelions, hidden lakes found in Antarctica, a faster camera, process for better batteries

Scientists have identified a key-protein that controls rubber production in dandelions.
Scientists have identified a key-protein that controls rubber production in dandelions. TU Munchen

A step closer to making rubber from dandelions

Dandelions deliver a desirable product: rubber. This is why the robust weed has become the focus of attention of the rubber industry. But how is rubber, contained in the plant’s white milky fluid, actually formed? A team of German scientists has identified proteins that play a key role in the production of rubber in the plant.

The fluid is produced in special cells in the dandelion by a protein complex on the surface of so-called rubber particles. These globular particles are filled with polyisoprene, the main component of rubber, and are surrounded by a protective coating.

Their results are published in the online journal Nature Plants.

So far it has not been possible to manufacture natural rubber biotechnologically. But the identification of key components in rubber synthesis has brought this possibility a step closer, the researchers say.

Tenn.-led study locates hidden lakes in Antarctica

Antarctica as a frozen wasteland? Turns out there are hidden interconnected lakes underneath its dry valleys that could sustain life and shed light on ancient climate change.

Jill Mikucki, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, microbiologist, was part of a team that detected extensive salty groundwater networks in Antarctica using a novel airborne electromagnetic mapping sensor system called SkyTEM.

The research provides compelling evidence that the underground lakes and brine-saturated sediments may support subsurface microbial ecosystems.

The study is published in the current edition of the journal Nature Communications.

The findings allow scientists to better learn how Antarctica has responded to climate change over time, said Mikucki, the study’s lead author. The findings also help them understand glacial dynamics.

Trillion-frame-per-second camera developed

Researchers from Japan have developed a new high-speed camera that can record events at a rate of more than 1 trillion frames per second. That speed of STAMP – Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography – is more than 1,000 times faster than conventional high-speed cameras.

Conventional high-speed cameras are limited by the processing speed of their mechanical and electrical components.

STAMP relies on a property of light called dispersion that can be observed in the way a misty sky splits sunshine into a rainbow of colors. STAMP splits an ultra-short pulse of light into a barrage of different-colored flashes that hit the imaged object in rapid-fire succession.

S.C. scientists find way to better batteries, fuel cells

Scientists from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University have discovered a way to dramatically improve the efficiency of batteries and fuel cells. The research, published in Nature Communications, involves improving the transport of oxygen ions, a key component in converting chemical energy into electricity. Using additives and a “smart” chemical reaction, they demonstrated a greatly enhanced conductivity in GDC, a well-known material that transports oxygen ions and which is used as a solid oxide fuel cell electrolyte. The result is a faster and more efficient conversion into electricity.