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Building Better Technology by Copying from Nature: This Week, Fern Catapults

David Klinghoffer

From the Annals of Intelligent Design: Science reports new insights about how ferns launch their spores into the air (“The Fern Sporangium: A Unique Catapult“). Xavier Noblin, lead author of the study, explained the significance to the New York Times:

“I think we can really learn from this,” Dr. Noblin said. “I am sure it will be used in technology. Our first motivation was to just understand why.”

From the abstract:

Various plants and fungi have evolved ingenious devices to disperse their spores. One such mechanism is the cavitation-triggered catapult of fern sporangia. The spherical sporangia enclosing the spores are equipped with a row of 12 to 13 specialized cells, the annulus. When dehydrating, these cells induce a dramatic change of curvature in the sporangium, which is released abruptly after the cavitation of the annulus cells. The entire ejection process is reminiscent of human-made catapults with one notable exception: The sporangia lack the crossbar that arrests the catapult arm in its returning motion. We show that much of the sophistication and efficiency of the ejection mechanism lies in the two very different time scales associated with the annulus closure.

Emphasis added. Those are some smart ferns.