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Science

Low Levels of Toxic Gas Found To Encourage Plant Growth 103

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger dept.
olsmeister writes "Hydrogen Sulfide is a toxic, flammable, foul-smelling gas that some theorize may have been at least partially responsible for some of Earth's mass extinctions, including the Permian-Triassic event, which killed well over half of the species on the planet. Now, thanks to a fortuitous accident, doctoral student at the University of Washington seems to have discovered that very low doses of the gas seems to greatly enhance plant growth, causing plants to germinate more quickly and grow larger. The finding could have far reaching implications for both food and biofuel production."
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Low Levels of Toxic Gas Found To Encourage Plant Growth

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  • by michelcolman (1208008) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:25AM (#43480729)

    Too bad they missed the "low dose" part of the article. Texans...

  • by devkrev (1973778) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:27AM (#43480739)
    Is this the same stuff that was being experimented with for suspended animation?
  • by KiloByte (825081) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:37AM (#43480769)

    This is not a case of Paracelsian "the dose makes the poison", these amounts are already harmful. Yet for the seeds, it's a hint that something bad happened to already grown plants in the area, and that if they germinate right now, they will have an opening they can grow unopposed into. This is a gamble, yeah -- the harmful agent might be still there in several days when it can possibly hurt the sapling, but considering how small a fraction of seeds get to produce a viable plant normally instead of being blocked by others, it's like Emperor's Day came early.

    • by msauve (701917)
      But it's odd that they didn't test with low levels of ethylene and ammonia, too. Those, along with hydrogen sulfide, are already well known to have roles in the ripening process of fruits. That makes me believe that the claim "Everything else that's ever been done on plants was looking at hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations," is overstated.
    • by plover (150551) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @08:40AM (#43481433) Homepage Journal

      I was thinking along somewhat related lines, but I think the mechanisms might be more simple than "seedling roulette."

      We see a pattern in orchids like dendrobiums, which are native to habitats where they undergo very dry winters. The prolonged drought of winter causes dormancy, which creates stress in the plants. The first taste of water after the drought triggers rapid growth and blooming flowers - in nature this immediately follows the arrival of the spring rains. We also know that if the spring water is inadequate, the plant will produce a few flowers and then die. It is often explained as "stress creates some kind of last-chance-to-propagate mechanism", but I believe it's simply another manifestation of the spring trigger conditions occurring in the dying plant.

      It is also not uncommon for an orchid grown in a stressful artificial environment, such as one where it doesn't get the correct water or light, to produce a few meager flowers just before it dies. It certainly wouldn't surprise me that being exposed to a toxin like HS would create similar stresses in the plants, which could trigger the same mechanisms.

      Random exposure to toxins would probably kill most of the plants. But I suspect controlled exposure could be exploited to produce flowers on a schedule, such as roses for Valentine's Day.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        I was thinking along somewhat related lines, but I think the mechanisms might be more simple than "seedling roulette."

        We see a pattern in orchids like dendrobiums, which are native to habitats where they undergo very dry winters. The prolonged drought of winter causes dormancy, which creates stress in the plants. The first taste of water after the drought triggers rapid growth and blooming flowers - in nature this immediately follows the arrival of the spring rains. We also know that if the spring water is

      • You win today's Most Informative Post Award, and will receive the grand prize of five internets.
    • by cusco (717999)
      Emperor's Day?
  • by jamesh (87723) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:41AM (#43480789)

    causing plants to germinate more quickly and grow larger

    So all we need to do is figure out a few genes to make h2s, splice them into a few rainforest trees, and let natural selection do the rest. Rainforest depletion problem solved.

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:50AM (#43480809) Journal
    I love to grow vegetables every summer here in my home.
    It usually works like this:

    1) Plant some seeds in fertile soil.

    2) Water frequently.

    3) Drink some beer.

    4) Release some gas.

    5) Watch the plants grow a little more.

    6) Release some more gas...

    7) watch the plants g.... oh well, you catch my win...drift, don't you? My plants sure do.
  • doctoral student (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @06:17AM (#43480881) Homepage

    doctoral student at the University of Washington seems to have discovered

    "doctoral student"? The poor guy doesn't even have a name?

  • So, that stinky sulfurous gas that they produce may turn out to be good for something after all. And here was, thinking that they were just an enviro-weenie plot to reduce the performance of muscle cars by restricting the exhaust system.

    • by sFurbo (1361249)
      Are you sure that catalytic converters produce H2S? IIRC, sulfur is a poison to them. Actually, the only noxious gasses I can think of that cas produce is NOx, which is one of the things catalytic converters should remove.
      • by PPH (736903)

        That rotten egg smell they make is a sulfur compound. Maybe not all H2S (catalytic converters are capable of producing some bizarre molecular structures), but any decent chemist can clearly identify it by its smell.

    • They don't cut much power and you can get a performance cat that will create no restriction. Their weight has a bigger performance effect than the exhaust restriction they create.

  • As far as I know (and even google claims I'm correct in think this), doesn't manure also generate H2S in a limited amount?
    Ok the link between manure and growing food was maybe incomplete since they only thought the nutrients where mainly the nitrogen based compounds.

    The only application I see is the hydro-culture vegetables/fruits here in Belgium and they already have no taste compared to real soil cultivated vegetables, and now they will get rotten egg taste?

    • The only application I see is the hydro-culture vegetables/fruits here in Belgium and they already have no taste compared to real soil cultivated vegetables, and now they will get rotten egg taste?

      The difference in taste you describe is probably due to varieties being bred/selected for fast growth (and shelf appearance) over taste, not the medium they're grown in.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @07:34AM (#43481161) Journal

    Now we know where Gru can use his fart gun.

  • It would seem that this is not an entirely new discovery - paper from 2011 here:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3170546/ [nih.gov]

  • Spraying a highly toxic gas (which cannot be smelled after it passes a certain threshold) over large areas of land? What could possibly go wrong? I know I'll sleep better at night knowing gas regulators never fail, nor do meters ever give inaccurate readings.

    • It would be pretty inefficient to spray this on fields, you'd need a near constant jetstream to have much of an effect. In big greenhouses and hydroponics installations, that's where you'd pump it into the atmosphere. Also it would be a good idea to do it in a controlled environment for reasons of soil depletion, rapidly growing plants I'd imagine would strip a normal field of nutrients completely. No such thing as a free lunch.

      Although one place it could have major benefits would be in setting up self suff

    • by SQL Error (16383)

      They didn't use the gas directly; they dissolved it in water, at a concentration of 1 part per billion (ppb). 5ppb concentration in air is detectable by smell; 10 ppm, i.e. 10,000ppb, is the safety limit for extended exposure set by OSHA. So the concentrations used in the experiment are quite safe. That said, in higher concentrations it is seriously nasty.

  • won't smell like pot anymore, it will instead smell like rotten eggs :) ..

  • We take in arsenic daily in very small amounts. We all know arsenic is very toxic. So someone thought up this experiment and created an arsenic-free environment. It turned out that caused more illness than usual, so arsenic in small amounts helps us somehow to stay healthier. Source is the book "Wat is nu gezond" (What is healthy) by Martijn Katan, professor in Health Sciences.

    • Or anything else. Water, while essential for life as we know it, is extremely harmful in large amounts.
  • Many plants (I'm thinking of passiflore for instance) will not flower unless they are stressed. Why reproduce sexually when you just grow? Because your life might be threatened and forming flower / fruit / seed maybe your only chance to spread your genes.

    • by Greyfox (87712)

      ... Why reproduce sexually when you just grow? ...

      Spoken like a true Slashdotter!

  • My farts can help improve the world!

  • It may not cause quite as big a difference as hydrogen sulfide, but it has also been shown that even slight increases of CO2 also cause an increase in the speed of plant growth. It has been known for some time that plants take the carbon out of CO2. How hydrogen sulphide works is not quite as obvious.
  • by lazlo (15906)

    This sounds like quite an interesting discovery, and definitely has the potential to lead to some truly amazing dystopian science fiction. I'm thinking the movie will be named "Death Farm"

  • We've known this well before I was even born, how the fuck is this news?

  • If plants have evolved this and kept this feature... isn't it only a matter of time oceanic clathrates explode or whatnot and the toxic gas extinction washes over us?
  • You know what else is a toxic gas that encourages growth at low levels? Oxygen.

  • ... didn't stink enough, already.
  • In 6th grade science class today, the teacher said that egg farts help plants grow so we should stop 'dissing' him, whatever that means.

  • small doses of hydrogen sulfide given to growing infants made them grow larger and more powerful. They became the X-men.

  • Unless there's something extra-special about the sulphur being in the form of H2S, there's no shocking news here. Many fertilizers contain sulphur (in Miracle Grow as copper sulphate). Sulphur is 0.25% of human mass, and is essential to human life.
  • Pretty biologically interesting stuff to do both.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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