Bits and Pieces: Tooth Pollution, Seaweed for Frost Protection and Cold-Fighting Fruit

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Photo by Fotolia/Vera Kuttelvaserova
Seaweed can protect plants from damage by frost.

Fooling Mother Nature: By culturing stem tissue from an ordinary celery plant, researchers at Plant Genetics, Inc.–a biotechnology firm headquartered in Davis, California–have found they can produce man-made seeds that are very much like the natural embryos . . . but that lack protective kernels. The scientists weren’t stumped by this complication, however. They simply imitated Mother Nature by encapsulating the tiny green embryos in a polymer coated organic jelly. The synthetic celery seed, which could reach the market within 18 months, would offer growers their first opportunity to buy true hybrid celery. Other advantages of the manmade seeds are that they could be produced year round and in very little space, and that the jellylike aqueous “epidermis” could carry minute doses of agricultural chemicals or nitrogen-fixing bacteria to help the young plants on their way. According to the Newsweek report, though, it appears that natural celery seeds will still be with us for quite some time.

Tooth Pollution: The Department of Environmental Affairs in the German state of Hesse has determined that the region’s dental offices are among the chief sources of mercury waste, most of it coming from the amalgam used in fillings . . . and it’s suspected that the tooth fillers are partly responsible for the mercury contamination in the area’s streams. Hessian dentists dump out a total of 4.8 metric tons of tooth cement each year. Although half of this comes from extracted teeth and is thus disposed of as solid waste, the debris left over after a tooth is filled goes directly down the drain and into the water supply. The actual amount of mercury that can be traced to the dentist’s chair is not yet known, but the region’s dental associations are already discussing the implementation of some sort of waste-filtering system.

Getting the Lead Out: Recent findings published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Science suggest that cola may be of benefit in instances of acute lead poisoning. When laboratory rats drank the beverage immediately after ingesting lead, absorption of the toxic metal was cut by 30%. The phosphates in the cola, the researchers say, may combine with the lead to form lead phosphate, a substance that the gastrointestinal tract can’t absorb efficiently and thus excretes.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: This familiar adage held true for 300 students at Michigan State University, reports The Gardener, a publication of the Men’s Garden Clubs of America, Inc. In a three-year study, students who ate the fruit daily made one-third fewer visits to the university clinic for upper respiratory infections and colds than did their non-pome-eating classmates.

Fertilized Frost Protection: According to investigators at Clemson University in South Carolina, seaweed can protect plants from damage by frost. Tomato plants whose leaves were sprayed with dilute seaweed extract survived temperatures of 29°F, while untreated plants were killed by the cold. The frost deterrent is also an excellent fertilizer, having twice the potassium of cow manure and an abundance of trace elements.

An Ecological Video Game: The Center for Science in the Public Interest is joining the computer age . . . but the organization’s software offering has a unique twist that could make it a useful tool for educators. Eco-Paradise, a maze-like quiz game, teaches basic facts about current environmental issues, including such topics as acid rain, air pollution, asbestos hazards, and lead poisoning . . . and the questions at the end of the game rate the player’s lifestyle as to its degree of ecological responsibility.

Bartering With Uncle Sam: A recent congressional study has determined that bartering farm products for Third World raw materials could bring the U.S. an additional $27 billion in foreign trade . . . and help alleviate world hunger. Among the swaps suggested were trades of corn, wheat, and cheese for rubber from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Liberia. . . corn and wheat for iron ore from Venezuela and Brazil . . . and dairy products for copper and cobalt from Zambia. A major barrier to such large-scale bartering, though, is that developing nations would rather trade for cash. And the Reagan Administration opposes bartering at the governmental level. Representative Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., who requested the study, intends to pursue further barter legislation.

Handle With Care: According to physicians at the St. Luke’s Hospital Kidney Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a man recently suffered kidney failure after heavy exposure to the common garden insecticide malathion. In a letter to a major medical journal, the doctors suggested that malathion altered the patient’s immune system and thus produced renal failure. Fortunately, the patient recovered rapidly with no specific treatment. The doctors stressed, however, that malathion is a toxic substance and should be handled with caution.

More Bits:

One 18-hole golf course can produce the oxygen required by a town of 7,000 people, says the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

According to Ruth Leger Sivard’s report, World Military and Social Expenditures 1983, the cost of a single new nuclear submarine could pay for the education of 160 million school-age children in 23 developing countries for a year.

An ecological form of porous asphalt that permits 70 inches of water per hour to percolate through pavement is being tested near Houston.

In the Philippines, infant deaths in one hospital were down 95% after an intensive campaign to promote breast feeding was conducted.

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