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IPFS News Link • Science

How the 'Diamond of the Plant World' Helped Land Plants Evolve

• arclein

When Fu-Shuang Li, a biochemist and research scientist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, needed some pollen for his research, he knew just where to go. Every spring, the pitch pine trees ringing Walden Pond in Concord release clouds of golden pollen that coat the water and gather in galactic swirls against the shore. Henry David Thoreau, who spent two years living beside the pond in the 1840s, closes his famous account of the experience by describing so much pollen, "you could have collected a barrelful." Crouching at the pond's edge in a black hoodie and sweatpants, Li dipped in a test tube, drawing out a few hundred milliliters of water, laden with pollen and whatever else was growing in it. It was far from a barrelful of the stuff, but it was more than enough for Li's efforts to study the molecular structure of pollen's outer shell. Called sporopollenin, the material that makes up the shell is so tough it has sometimes been called the diamond of th