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Gardening with George Weigel

Answers to your gardening questions and other tips by George Weigel.

Last Build Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2018 14:04:25 UTC

Copyright: Copyright 2018

A bad new bug, a glowing plant, and flytraps without flies: The latest in gardening research

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 14:03:17 UTC


Gardening researchers have been hard at work creating plants that glow, plants that resist the boxwood blight, and ways to keep that dratted new spotted lanternfly from eating our landscape. Let's peek into the science labs this week to see what gardening researchers have discovered lately that affects how we garden: Spotted lanternfly Pennsylvania's newest nasty-invader bug is the spotted lanternfly, an attractive-looking bug (so far as bug-cuteness goes) that showed up for the first time in Berks County in 2014. Spotted lanternflies are colorful, albeit destructive, bugs.Holly Raguza, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture  The state Department of Agriculture has extended a quarantine to 13 Pennsylvania counties (including Lancaster and Lebanon) in an attempt to contain this fast-spreading bug. It's also advising the removal of as many of the lanternfly's favorite host trees as possible (the tree of Heaven, which is a weed tree anyway) and asking people to check for lanternfly egg masses on their car tires if they've been in a quarantine county. Meanwhile, researchers at Penn State University are studying captured bugs in an attempt to figure out ways to stop it, such as by importing predators from the bug's native Asia or by introducing bacteria or other biological controls. Penn State entomologist Julie Urban is trying to identify exactly what draws spotted lanternflies to trees of Heaven in an effort to develop a lure that might disrupt their mating. Spotted lanternfly is distinctive for the lower pair of spotted red wings on adult bugs, which hatch in May and congregate on trees (and sometimes people) in July. Adults pierce trunks, branches and vines, causing a mix of sap and "honeydew" (bug poop) that draws other insects and grows a potentially deadly sooty-mold fungus. The bug is a particular threat to grapes, fruit trees, and a variety of hardwood trees, including cherry, beech, maple, and walnut. New meaning for "plant light" Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a watercress that dimly glows, opening the possibility that plants could become our lights of the future. "The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp - a lamp that you don't have to plug in," says Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT. Rather than genetically altering plants as other glowing-plant developers have tried, MIT engineers got watercress to faintly glow by using nanoparticles to deliver luciferase (an enzyme) into the plant cells. That's the enzyme that gives fireflies their glow. Read George's article on the Starlight Avatar, a tobacco plant that glows due to genetic engineering. MIT's first plants glowed faintly for only 45 minutes, but engineers have boosted that to 31/2 hours. They believe the technology, called "nanobionics," is capable of producing enough light that plants could someday light an office workspace and trees could become self-powered streetlights. To get the firefly enzyme into the plants, researchers mixed it and silica nanoparticles into a solution, soaked the plants in it, then exposed the plants to high pressure. Light is just the latest way that embedded nanoparticles have given plants new use. Strano's lab previously designed plants that can detect explosives and monitor drought conditions. "Plants can self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment," Strano says. "We think (plants that light) is an idea whose time has come." MIT has managed so far to produce glowing arugula, kale, and spinach in addition to watercress. And researchers have learned that it's possible to "turn off" glowing plants by adding nanoparticles that carry a luciferase inhibitor. Read more about glowing plants in a Technology Review article. Is it really a flytrap? Research by Dr. Stephen Williams, professor emeritus of biology at Lebanon Valley College, provides evidence that the best-known carnivorous plant, the Venus flytrap, isn't much of a f[...]

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