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Small Business to Sell ‘Superplants’ to Remove 30x More Indoor Pollutants Than Normal Houseplants

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A company in France has developed genetically-enhanced houseplants that remove 30 times more indoor air pollutants than your normal ficus.

Paint, treated wood, household cleaners, insulation, unseen mold—there is a shopping list of things that can fill the air you breathe in your home with VOCs or volatile organic compounds. These include formaldehyde and other airborne substances that can cause inflammation and irritation in the body.

The best way to tackle this little-discussed private health problem is by keeping good outdoor airflow into your living spaces, but in the dog days of summer or the depths of a Maine winter, that might not be possible.

Houseplants can remove these pollutants from the air, and so the company Neoplants decided to make simple alterations to these species’ genetic makeup to supercharge this cleaning ability.

In particular, houseplants’ natural ability to absorb pollutants like formaldehyde relies on them storing them as toxins to be excreted later.

French scientists and Neoplants’ co-founders Lionel Mora and Patrick Torbey engineered a houseplant to convert them instead to plant matter. They also took aim at the natural microbiome of houseplants to enhance their ability to absorb and process VOCs as well.

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Volunteer “De-sea-weeding” Removal Program Causes Dramatic 600% Improvement of Coral Regrowth

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Any good gardener knows what a good de-weeding can do for a vegetable garden. As it turns out, it’s much the same for coral reefs.

Following a volunteer “sea-weeding” program launched in Australia, scientists are witnessing compounding coral recovery both in quantity and diversity, and suggest that this simple method has the power to transform degraded reefs overrun by macroalgae.

In a balanced ecosystem, macroalgae is kept in check by the size and health of corals, but as extreme weather events or coral bleaching causes some sections of reef to die, macroalgae has no other neighbor keeping a check on its spread.

Over a period of three years, the joint Earthwatch Institute program led by James Cook University Senior Research Officer Hillary Smith and Professor David Bourne, also at JCU and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, has organized volunteer citizen scientists to help remove macroalgae at two experimental reef sites.

The results of the first three years of work and study have now been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, and they show a 600% increase in coral recovery rates.

“It’s just like weeding your garden,” Smith said. “Every time we return, the seaweed is growing back less and less, so this method could provide lasting benefit without requiring endless effort.”

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Plants When Responding to Touch Send Different Signals Through Their Cells, Shows New Study

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Despite the veins in a leaf appearing like a nervous system, our woody neighbors do not have a nervous system—but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel your touch upon their many hands.

Quite the contrary, scientists have established using sophisticated microscopy that plants register the beginning and end of every touch by sending slow waves of calcium signals to their cells.

Conducted at Washington State Univ., the scientists used 84 experiments from twelve members of tobacco and thale cress species that had been specially bred with calcium sensors.

Previous research has shown that when a pest like a caterpillar bites a plant leaf, it can initiate the plant’s defensive responses such as the release of chemicals that make leaves less tasty or even toxic to the pest. An earlier study also revealed that brushing a plant triggers calcium waves that activate different genes.

Using a glass rod the width of a human hair, they gently probed the leaves’ individual cells under a microscope to see what the response was.

“It is quite surprising how finely sensitive plants cells are—that they can discriminate when something is touching them. They sense the pressure, and when it is released, they sense the drop in pressure,” said Michael Knoblauch, WSU biological sciences professor and senior author of the study in the journal Nature Plants.

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Landscapers clear acres of overgrown, invasive plants to improve Thompson Park

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WATERTOWN — Starting a more than weeklong project on Thursday, Brian R. Percy sat perched a couple of stories above the ground in Thompson Park operating a Prentice log loader.

The loader, fitted with a claw, grabbed pesky underbrush, picked it up and placed it in the back of a dump truck.

Back on the ground, another employee of B&R Tree Experts, Black River, maneuvered a Bobcat, equipped with a Fecon head on it, as it placed smaller debris in an industrial chipper. Two other employees with chain saws also helped out with the project.

Within three hours, the four B&R tree experts removed about an acre of European buckthorn, clearing out an area near the Gotham Street entrance that will be used by park-goers in the near future.

“We don’t mess around,” Mr. Percy said. “We get in and get out.”

Over the next week or so, the company will remove about 11 acres of buckthorn, an invasive species that has gobbled up lawns in the historic city park for decades.

It’s part of the city’s ongoing efforts to make the park “more accessible and more usable,” according to City Manager Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s resident Thompson Park expert.

After the work is done, Mr. Mix, who’s spearheading the improvements, envisions adding picnic tables to the cleared space or creating a disc golf course, an amenity that park enthusiasts have requested in recent years.

While the heavy equipment will remove gobs of buckthorn quickly, other park improvements began four years ago.

In 2018, volunteers and members of the Friends of Thompson Park, a group dedicated to the 355-acre park, started gathering one Saturday a month in the summer months and into the fall to work on Thompson Park’s trail system.

“They’ve done a lot of work,” Mr. Mix said.

Over the past 20 years, mountain bikers have created a series of trails around the park.

But many of the trails that snake around the park have been covered by the invasive species. Others have disappeared after years of neglect, Mr. Mix said.

The improvements began with volunteers using tools to remove brush by hand to widen trails, create new ones and reopen underutilized portions of the park.

They dragged out the debris, where it was picked up by public works crews and carted away.

Park enthusiasts were back at work on Saturday placing wood chips on some of those improved trails.

During the past few years, Walter Zabriskie, who has lived in Watertown for 40 years, has participated in about a half dozen of the Saturday volunteer efforts.

“We love the park,” he said. “We think it’s the best thing about Watertown.”

On a recent humid day, Mr. Mix took a reporter on a hike through a trail off West End Drive, near the Gotham Street entrance.

Across the road from the West End Drive Overlook, the trail entrance has been marked by logs on either side. The trail quickly narrows. Only one person can hike on it at a time.

It meanders past Goose Pond, a depressed water area on the left, and the Watertown Golf Club on the other side. It loops around and comes back out to the overlook.

“I know people who have lived here 30 years and don’t know this is here,” Mr. Mix said.

He’s hoping to change that with the ongoing improvements.

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Covering Crops in Red Plastic Can Boost Yields Up to 37 Percent

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For centuries, humans have used greenhouses to help plants grow outside of tolerable conditions. Now, as it turns out, it might be much better if instead of greenhouses, we built redhouses.

The red spectrum of light stimulates the leaves of plants to produce more chlorophyll, and an Australian ag-startup is wielding this basic science to create thick red films to cover existing greenhouses in order to boost plant production beyond what either the sun, or greenhouses are capable of.

Luminescent-Light Emitting Agriculture Films, or “LLEAF” was founded by scientists from a partnership between the Universities of New South Wales and Western Sydney.

They produce, and are now testing, several different films to increase crop yields, with each one tailored to a different kind of plant.

“Our luminescent light-emitting agricultural film, LLEAF, is designed to ‘supercharge’ natural sunlight by shifting the natural light into a light spectrum that is more beneficial for plant growth,” company co-founder Dr. Alex Soeriyadi tells Future Food Systems. “Our trials indicate potential to increase yield, improve plant cycle and harvest control.”

LLEAF 620 is a low-red spectrum color to boost photosynthesis and increase production in most plants, while for aquatic plants, LLEAF 590 is the best choice for applications where light penetration through water for increased growth rate is required.

Far-red spectrum light is better for fruiting trees and flowers, for which LLEAF sells two different films, one for production and another for growth, which climb to the 700 nanometer range of the light spectrum.

The films are made from special dyes that absorb and diffuse photons from the green spectrum of light, and emit it again as red light to increase plant photosynthesis.

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