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The Opuntia microdasys survival strategies to capture water molecules in an interesting study.

by: SeedsCactus.com05/03/2013

An interesting study recently published in the prestigious journal "Nature", shows how some species of cacti, accustomed to living in arid environments, can survive by capturing the moisture in the fog through their spines. The team of scientists, led by Prof. Bai Hao and Prof. Jie Ju of the National Laboratory of Molecular Sciences in Beijing, has conducted a series of studies on some plants of Opuntia microdasys, a plant specialized in the absorption of ambient humidity, giving extraordinary results.

According to scientists, it seems that the particular shape of the spines of this plant, native to the Mexican desert of Chihuahua, allows it to survive long periods without rainfall simply trapping and absorbing the small water droplets typical of fog.

A spine, whatched by microscope, has the form of a very elongated cone, on whose surface there are small "grooves" and oriented "barbs". Among other things, these barbs make difficult to extract the spines from the skin: they block the spine and don't allow it to come back.

The arrangement of grooves and barbs is such that when a droplet of water is deposited on the spine, due to its electrostatic charge surface, it tends to take the spine to the base, even if the spine is downward oriented. Along the way, it meets other drops of water and joining them, can move faster and faster towards the spine base. Here are "trichomes", small hairs in strip form, that capture permanently the drop of water and absorb it within the plant. In the presence of fog, the ambient humidity is very high and the process of deposition of water particles is constant and continuous: with this excellent efficiency system, Opuntia microdasys are able run along their spines and absorb a good part of the water necessary to their survival.

The understanding of this phenomenon, the scientists conclude, as well as allow us to explain the high resistance of these plants to drought, can help design new materials and devices with high efficiency to collect water from fog.

We recommend to anyone wanting to investigate the matter to read the entire scientific publication, available in English on the website of the journal "Nature".


Opuntia mycrodasis La cattura della nebbia


Find more on:

[Ju, J. et al. A multi-structural and multi-functional integrated fog collection system in cactus. Nat. Commun. 3:1247 doi: 10.1038/ncomms2253 (2012)]





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