I’m no scientist but I imagine it must be pretty hard to study something that you can’t see. After all, before the Father of the Microscope came along very little was known about such things as bacteria and other small organisms and cells within the human body. By being able to see such things scientists were able to find a cure for many diseases and it made further research possible that helps us to understand the world around us. This isn’t necessarily true when it comes to plants though.
Unless you’re living in the middle of the desert or atop one of the polar icecaps you pretty much take plants for granted. They provide us with a nice view of the world and the sustenance we need to keep on living but what you see only tells a small portion of the story. Most of the real work that occurs happens underground in the root system and since it’s pretty hard to see through the dirt, relatively little is known about what goes on down there.
This has plagued scientists for years and eventually led to the development of hydroponics but since the roots of the plants are submerged in water it didn’t represent a true picture of the ecosystem.
That might be changing sometime in the near future.
Credit for the creation of transparent soil goes to a team of scientists in Scotland’s University of Abertay Dundee. And when they say transparent, they really mean it. The transparent soil they invented is as clear as glass and maintains most of the properties associated with your garden-variety dirt. (Bad pun intended). It’s made from something called “Naflon” and mixed with a water solution. Then it’s formed into tiny pellets and guess what? The plants thrived in it.
If you want to see what this transparent soil “looks like”, click here.
Some of you might be asking of what the benefits of having transparent soil might be. Well, for starters, by seeing what the working end of the plant actually does scientists hope to improve crop genetics and find out exactly how deadly bacteria enter the food chain. They also hope to one day breed more efficient crops that would need fewer man made fertilizers.
The only problem is that the current method for producing transparent soil is that it’s not very cost effective and couldn’t be used on a large scale basis. Once they figure that out, imagine how the countryside around you would change? Instead of just seeing the surface of the dirt, you’d be able to see a whole new world growing all around you. I can't imagine what it would do to my golf game.
As Mister Spock from the early days of Star Trek would say:
Oh yeah, I’m pretty sure that if transparent soil ever becomes the rage, parents around the world would be delighted. I know mine would. When I was a kid my mother practically lived next to the washing machine to get all of the dirt out of my various clothes and baseball and football uniforms.
Submitted in conjunction with ScienceQuest 2013