British scientists have cracked the global earthworm mystery: they have worked out how the planet’s great subterranean reprocessing system copes with the poisons that would choke most herbivores.
Earthworms underwrite almost all life on earth: they drag fallen leaves below the soil and digest them, to excrete that rich mix of loam and living things called topsoil. Every year, 35 billion tons of dead grass and leaf litter get turned over by the worms and other soil fauna. But the catch is that some plants are really poisonous, and all plants contain some toxins designed by evolution to discourage demolition by herbivores, and these toxins carry on working even after leaf fall.
But earthworms seem to have the stomach for almost anything vegetable. And Manuel Liebeke and Jakob Bundy of Imperial College in London have the answer. They and colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that that the earthworm’s gut contains a suit of molecules that neutralise the polyphenols that give plants their colour, serve as antioxidants and discourage many ravenous grazers.
The worm’s internal defences have been identified and pinpointed by sophisticated visual imaging, and named drilodefensins. The researchers calculate that drilodefensins are so abundant that for every person on the planet there may be at least one kilogram of the molecules in the worms under their feet.
Which is why we are all here: researchers last year confirmed that the simple existence of earthworms in the soil means that crop yields may increase on average by 25% and the weight of all foliage above ground by 23%. The great biologist and evolutionary pioneer Charles Darwin called them “nature’s ploughs.”
But, the Imperial team point out, without the earthworm’s arsenal of drilodefensins, there wouldn’t be much soil to plough.
Continue reading “Answer To Earthworm’s Ability To Digest Poisons Unearthed By Scientists”
Research is first to find wide-ranging differences between organic and conventional fruits, vegetables and cereals
Organic food has more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health than regular food, and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides, according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date.
The international team behind the work suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables could give the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended “five a day”.
The team, led by Prof Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University, concludes that there are “statistically significant, meaningful” differences, with a range of antioxidants being “substantially higher” – between 19% and 69% – in organic food. It is the first study to demonstrate clear and wide-ranging differences between organic and conventional fruits, vegetables and cereals.
The researchers say the increased levels of antioxidants are equivalent to “one to two of the five portions of fruits and vegetables recommended to be consumed daily and would therefore be significant and meaningful in terms of human nutrition, if information linking these [compounds] to the health benefits associated with increased fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption is confirmed”.
Continue reading “Study Finds Clear Differences Between Organic And Non-Organic Food”
In some regions of the world you can still naturally find white, yellow, red and purple carrots, this is the spectrum of colors carrots used to have but today in most countries carrots tend to be just orange. Why is that then?
Allegedly they are orange for entirely political reasons: in the 17th century, Dutch growers are thought to have cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who led the the struggle for Dutch independence – and the color stuck. A thousand years of yellow, white and purple carrot history, was wiped out in a generation.
Although some scholars doubt if orange carrots even existed prior to the 16th century, they now form the basis of most commercial cultivators around the world. Presumably crosses between Eastern (purple), Western (white, red) and perhaps wild carrots led to the formation of the orange rooted carrot sub species. Turkey is often cited as the original birthplace of the hybrids (or mutations) of the two groups.
Whatever the origins, the Long Orange Dutch carrot, first described in writing in 1721, is the forebear of the orange Horn carrot varieties so abundant nowadays. The Horn Carrot derives from the Netherlands town of Hoorn in the neighborhood of which it was presumably bred. All our modern, western carrots ultimately descend from these varieties.
In fact the different colour pigments have have different health benefits also, colours like Purple are reported to have more antioxidant effects (anthocyanins). I will post more on that soon but for now don’t just stick to what the supermarkets or veg shops are providing, create something new yourself.
So why not try something different next year, break the mold and get something you can’t just pick up somewhere. Brighten up that plate a bit and enjoy all the variety in colors on offer.
The Read Seed Catalogue may be somewhere to pick up those seeds (and support) but they are widely available now really.
Superfruit: Lonicera caerulea (syn. Honeyberry)
This edible honeysuckle produces fruits that can be eaten fresh or used in pies and muffins. High in Antioxidants, Vitamin B & C, they taste similar to blueberries with a slight honey after-taste. The little bushes only reach 90cm (3ft) high and are very hardy, drought resistant and easy to grow. Two plants are required for pollination purposes.
Get a good variety of different plants in your garden! Make some Honeyberry Muffins for your self and friends, something you won’t find on a supermarket shelf.
Superfruit: Aronia x prunifolia ‘Viking’ (syn. Black Chokeberry)
Three times the level of antioxidants found in blueberries and high in vitamin C, this is said to be the healthiest fruit in the world
The berries are too sharp to be eaten raw but are ideal for sauces in summer puddings or blended into juices and smoothies.
The plants are very hardy, easy to grow and will do best in moist, fertile soils in sun or part shade.
Season: late August – September.