Krasnoyarsk scientists have found that the unusual shade of blue spruce and gray wheat is due to the presence of nanotubes in the epicuticular wax covering the needles and leaves. Nanotubes affect the light penetrating into plants, so that they can survive in low light conditions and increase the efficiency of photosynthesis. The research results are published in the collection of the 2020 International Conference on Information Technology and Nanotechnology (ITNT).
Many plant parts are covered with epicuticular wax, which protects the leaves from excess moisture and drying out, insects and chemicals. Scientists from the Institute of Physics. L.V. The Kirensk Krasnoyarsk Scientific Center of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences found out that the structural elements of the wax coating of plants are nanotubes. Having studied the effect of the surface layer on the optical properties of blue spruce needles and gray-gray wheat leaves, the authors came to the conclusion that it is nanoobjects that are responsible for the blue color.
“In 2016, scientists from England discovered that it was not pigments that were responsible for the blue color of plants, but a certain photonic crystal structure in the chloroplasts of plants. There are many blue firs growing in Siberia, we started looking for the reason for their blue color and came across wax. It turned out that it was he who was responsible for the unusual color. If this layer is chemically removed, then visually the tree will become an ordinary green spruce. We also looked at a variety of gray wheat and found out that the thick wax cover of bluish plants consists of nanotubes. When studying the spectral characteristics of wax, we found that it absorbs almost all ultraviolet light and emits it in the visible range of light, that is, it fluoresces. By absorbing short-wavelength light, the wax layer protects the inner structure of cells from ultraviolet radiation and at the same time transfers it to the visible region of the spectrum, thereby increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis,”said one of the authors of the study, Evgeny Bukhanov.
Samples of nanotubes under a scanning electron microscope. Wheat (left) and blue spruce (right) Press service of the KSC SB RAS
Press service of the KSC SB RAS
Scientists used distilled water to separate the wax from the plant. The samples were placed in a vessel with water for several hours and cooled to minus temperatures. Freezing, the water expanded and tore off the wax plates from the surface of the leaf. After thawing, the plates floated to the surface, where scientists collected them. The study of the obtained samples under a scanning electron microscope showed that in both plants the wax coating consists of nanotubes with a diameter of about 150 nm and a length of 1–4 microns. Spruce needles and wheat leaves differed in fluorescence spectra. In spruce trees, the glow peak was close to the border with ultraviolet light, and in wheat, it was not far from the green zone. As a result, under the influence of ultraviolet light, the spruce becomes blue, and the wheat becomes gray-blue. The difference is due to the fact that the nanotubes in the wax coating are hollow, while in wheat they are filled, which is why they refract light in different ways.
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