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Top 10 Discoveries of the Year: Biological Sciences Get Attention

Top 10 Discoveries of the Year: Biological Sciences Get Attention

2021 was a very difficult year in terms of climate change. These events provoke thought in the population, which shows its willingness to support those who are looking for solutions.

In the biological sciences, many offer nature-inspired ways to reduce the polluting footprint ofA wise man Professor Friedrich Peter is one of them: he uses the chemistry of willow to treat wastewater, which caught the attention of the jury on 29e An edition of this year’s Ten Discoveries magazine Quebec Science.

But before concrete applications see the light of day, it is still necessary to understand how nature works, and on the basis of which it is formed … Scientists who conduct basic research may not arouse less public interest, but their research remains essential nonetheless. Simon Jolly and Daniel Schoen’s team also caught the jury’s attention by proving a 150-year-old Darwinian hypothesis about the cause of the existence of Cleistogamus plants.

The use of willow chemistry for wastewater treatment in Canadian cities

Eszter Sas et Frédéric Pitre

Every year in Canada, 6 trillion liters of municipal wastewater is partially treated and released into the environment. Biologists already knew that willow naturally tolerates pollution and that its roots filter nitrogen. A study was published in college ecology He showed that it would be possible to treat millions of liters of wastewater using fast-growing willows while producing bioenergy and “green” chemicals.

To stop the flow of polluted water, Friedrich Peter and his student Esther Sass used willow roots (Salix spp) to filter it. After experimenting with the method on a willow farm in Quebec, the researchers and their team estimated that more than 30 million liters of primary sewage per hectare could be treated annually using such a “bio filter”.

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The filter willow biomass can then be collected to make lignocellulosic renewable biofuels – a so-called second-generation biofuel and produced through the extraction of cellulose: it is a solution to fossil fuels and does not compete directly with the human food chain as first-generation biofuels, which are produced From beets, wheat, corn and others.

In addition, the scientists extracted completely unknown chemicals from filter willow as well as other compounds such as salicylic acid (known as the main ingredient in aspirin), which releases willow in large quantities, and a series of “green” chemicals – with important antioxidants, anti- Anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial – which were enriched by filtering waste water from willow roots.

This biorefinery concept sounds great for allowing new environmental technologies to compete economically with existing markets for fossil fuels and petroleum-based chemicals while helping reduce human harm to the ecosystem.

To vote for this discovery, click here

The Secret of Invisible Flowers: Darwin was right

Why do some plants produce unattractive small flowers? Two researchers in the biological sciences believe they have understood why, and have validated Darwin’s 150-year-old hypothesis.

Who says flower says shimmering, contrasting, vibrant colours…However, not all plants produce just such flowers. Some species referred to as ‘cleistogamous’ actually produce two types: ‘normal’, which is adorable, and ‘rune’, which is small, never opening and pollinating itself. So this second class of flowers need not attract pollinating insects with any beauty craft whatsoever. But until now, the purpose of the similar flowers has remained a mystery!

in a study published in a current biologyBiology professors Simon Jolly, University of Montreal, and Daniel Schoen, McGill University, show that cleistogamy, as this self-pollination is called, is closely related to symmetrical, bipedal flowers, that is, those with one level of symmetry rather than several flowers. ; Orchids are a good example. Charles Darwin formulated this hypothesis about 150 years ago, but it is only now, thanks to research by MM. Julie and Schoen, that the hypothesis has been scientifically proven.

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The beauty of the flowers of Chasmogamous plants – which reproduce by cross-pollination – attract pollinating animals and insects, which carry pollen between plants of the same species, effectively acting as intermediaries in the mating process. Reproduction problems arise when there is a shortage of pollinators for one reason or another. So the evolution process has enabled some plants to avoid this problem: they pollinate themselves.

To test Darwin’s hypothesis, Simon Jolly and Daniel Schoen analyzed more than 2,500 species of flowering plants – the largest dataset ever compiled for flowers with these unusual properties. Their findings highlight the challenge plants face: securing their offspring while reducing inbreeding. Cleistogamy therefore represents a solution to this dilemma by producing two types of flowers: ordinary flowers, which “cross” with other flowers thanks to pollinators, and cleistogams, which ensure reproduction when pollination conditions are poor.

To vote for this discovery, click here

Vote to discover your choice

The UdeM community is invited to learn about the discoveries of its researchers and vote for those who inspire them in website Quebec Science. Voting ends February 10, 2022 at 11:59 PM, and the 2021 discovery will be announced in the March issue of the magazine.