Wednesday, 5 December 2012

There's something about ivy

‘Tis the season to be jolly. A time when geese are getting fat and red-nosed reindeers are given their first big break. At Christmas, your halls may be decked with holly but it’s ivy that grows over everything else. Have you ever wondered how ivy is able to climb up walls?

English ivy (a species name Hedera Helix) makes its own glue-like substance out of natural nanoparticles. The roots of each plant produce millions of tiny, sticky spheres - each 100,000 times smaller than a holly berry. This remarkable feat helps the ivy to bend and twist around trees, chimneys and probably even parked-up sleighs given the chance.

New research (published in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology) has found a way to turn rows of ivy plants into natural factories for these adhesive particles, which also have another hidden talent: they also absorb ultraviolet light. 

In a few years’ time you might be using an ivy-based glue to stick stamps on your Christmas cards and – if you live in the southern hemisphere – wearing an ivy-based sunscreen whilst you eat your turkey.

Happy Christmas everyone!

This article was also published in The Christmas 2012 issue of The Guru Science/Lifestyle magazine.

Burris, J., Lenaghan, S., Zhang, M., & Stewart, C. (2012). Nanoparticle biofabrication using English ivy (Hedera helix) Journal of Nanobiotechnology, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1477-3155-10-41

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