Navigation Links
If plants generate magnetic fields, they're not sayin'

Searching for magnetic fields produced by plants may sound as wacky as trying to prove the existence of telekinesis or extrasensory perception, but physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, are seriously looking for biomagnetism in plants using some of the most sensitive magnetic detectors available.

In an article that appeared this week in the Journal of Applied Physics, the UC Berkeley scientists describe the instruments they used to look for minuscule magnetic fields around a titan arum the world's largest flower during its brief bloom, the interference from local BART trains and traffic that bedeviled the experiment, and their ultimate failure to detect a magnetic field.

They established, however, that the plant generated no magnetic field greater than a millionth the strength of the magnetic field surrounding us here on Earth.

Why look for biomagnetism in plants?

"There is a lot of activity now by scientists studying biomagnetism in animals, but not in plants," said Dmitry Budker, UC Berkeley professor of physics. "It is an obvious gap in science right now."

In animals, for example, activity in the heart and brain produce tiny magnetic fields that can be measured by sensitive magnetometers.

"We feel like this is a first step in an interesting direction that we would like to pursue," he added.

Budker spends most of his time developing extremely sensitive magnetic field detectors in particular, atomic magnetometers based on nonlinear magnetooptical rotation (NMOR). These devices can measure magnetic fields as low as 10 femtotesla, nearly a billion times lower than Earth's magnetic field at the surface, which is usually between 20 and 50 microtesla, depending on the location.

Magnetic noise in the laboratory initially led the Budker team to the University of California Botanical Garden, which provided an isolated space for them to test their magnetometers. There, the researchers, including graduate student Eric Corsini, encountered the garden's famed titan arum (Amorphophallus titanium), a plant that every few years sends up a tall, thick stalk covered with thousands of small flowers enveloped by one large, flower-like calyx. During its brief flowering, the plant gives off a powerful odor of rotting flesh to attract the carrion beetles and flesh flies that pollinate it.

"This giant, skirt-like thing opens fairly quickly, over an hour or two, and the plant starts to heat up and get really warm, and then gives off this odor that is strongest for the first 12 hours," said Paul Licht, director of the UC Botanical Garden. "By the end of 24 hours, all the real action is over; the pollination cycle has a very brief window to succeed."

Because magnetic fields are created by moving electrical charges, such as a current of electrons, the researchers thought that rapid processes in the plant during the rapid heating might involve flowing ions that would create a magnetic field. In the titan arum, the rapid heating raises the plant temperature as high as 20 to 30 Celsius (70-85 degrees Fahrenheit).

"In principle, there shouldn't be a fundamental difference between animals and plants in this respect, but as for which plants might produce the highest magnetic fields, that is a question for biologists," Budker said.

In June 2009, one of the garden's arums was ready to erupt, so the Budker group, headed by Corsini, set up a sensitive, commercial magnetometer next to the plant in a hothouse and monitored it continually. During the day, visitors entering the hothouse generated magnetic signals, and the BART trains several miles away created .05 microtesla signals periodically.

"We were most disappointed in not being able to put a tighter tolerance on our measurement, because we couldn't find a way to cancel out the local ambient magnetic field noise," Corsini said.

He and Budker expect that they can increase their sensitivity by a factor of 10 or 100, however.

"We haven't given up," Corsini said. "The next step is to see whether we can get hold of a smaller plant and perhaps shield it from outside magnetic fields far from public viewing. So far, biomagnetism is a fun side project for me, but if we were to see something ."

"The hope is that, next time one flowers, we're going to get it," Licht said.

People who want their own titan arum can purchase offspring, some now three to four feet high, at the botanical garden. While these plants make fascinating and easy houseplants, however, the owner should be prepared to move out of the house for a night when the plant ultimately flowers, Licht said.


Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley

Related biology news :

1. Commercial aquatic plants offer cost-effective method for treating wastewater
2. UC Riverside biochemists devise method for bypassing aluminum toxicity effects in plants
3. Reproducing early and often is the key to rapid evolution in plants
4. MSU scientists find new gene that helps plants beat the heat
5. Researchers design artificial cells that could power medical implants
6. When under attack, plants can signal microbial friends for help
7. Current mass extinction spurs major study of which plants to save
8. Scientists unveil mechanism for up and down in plants
9. New hybrid plants could prompt more prodigious pepper production in Southwest
10. Extreme weather postpones the flowering time of plants
11. Even plants benefit from outsourcing
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
If plants generate magnetic fields, they're not sayin'
(Date:10/29/2015)... health pioneer, Joseph C. Kvedar , MD, describes ... wellness, and the business opportunities that arise from it ... Healthy Things . Long before health and wellness ... vice president, Connected Health, Partners HealthCare, was creating a ... the hospital or doctor,s office into the day-to-day lives ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... YORK , Oct. 27, 2015 In ... major issues of concern for various industry verticals such ... is due to the growing demand for secure & ... in various ,sectors, such as hacking of bank accounts, ... for electronic equipment such as PC,s, laptops, and smartphones ...
(Date:10/26/2015)... October 26, 2015 ... adds Biometrics Market Shares, ... as well as Emerging Biometrics Technologies: ... to its collection of IT and ... . --> ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... - iCo Therapeutics ("iCo" or "the Company") (TSX-V: ICO) ... quarter ended September 30, 2015. Amounts, unless specified ... under International Financial Reporting Standards ("IFRS"). ... Andrew Rae , President & CEO of iCo ... value enriching for this clinical program, but also ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. (NASDAQ:  AEZS) (TSX: AEZ) (the ... the Toronto Stock Exchange, confirms that as of the ... developments that would cause the recent movements in the ... --> About Aeterna Zentaris Inc. ... Aeterna Zentaris is a specialty biopharmaceutical company engaged in ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... This fall, global software ... events in five states to develop and pitch their BIG ideas to improve health ... state are competing for votes to win the title of SAP's Teen Innovator, an ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , November 24, 2015 ... market research report released by Transparency Market Research, the ... at a CAGR of 17.5% during the period between ... Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Volume, Share, Growth, ... non-invasive prenatal testing market to reach a valuation of ...
Breaking Biology Technology: