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No. 23: Sep-Oct 1982

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Remarkable Engineering Design In Nature

Two unusual examples of inspired design in nature have been described recently:

(1) The swordfish possesses special tissues rich in mitochrondria and cytochrome-c that generate heat for the animal's eye and brain. Not only do these heating elements keep the swordfish eye and brain significantly warmer than the surrounding water but they also keep these organs warm and thus more effective during deep dives into the cold ocean depths.

(Carey, Francis G.; "A Brain Heater in the Swordfish," Science, 216:1327, 1982.)

(2) Plants, it seems, developed light pipes long before humans. Certain plant tissues (etiolated or dark-grown) act as multiple bundles of optical fibers and coherently transfer light over distances of at least 2 cm. Optical tests show that these natural light pipes are much more effective transmitters of light than media that simply scatter light. This unsuspected sophistication of Nature's design may require significant revisions in photobiology, which did not allow for such ingenuity.

(Smith , Harry; "Light-Piping by Plant Tissues," Nature, 298:423, 1982.)

Comment. Since some plants are known to emit light, we would not be surprised, the way things are going, to learn of natural plant lasers!

From Science Frontiers #23, SEP-OCT 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss