Secrets of self-planting seeds revealed, as described in the Journal of Experimental Biology, doi: 10.1242/jeb.055673, published online 26 January 2011.

A plant named Common Storksbill, a member of the geranium family with the scientific name Erodium cicutarium has a most efficient way of propagating itself. Its seeds are forcibly launched into the air, rather than just falling off, and when they land they drill themselves into the ground. The seeds are covered with backward pointing stiff hairs and are attached to a strap-like structure called an awn which is held straight in the seed pod, but coils into a helix when the seed has been launched.

Dennis Evangelista from University of California, Berkeley filmed the launching of the seeds and the drilling into the ground. After analysing the movement of the awn he used engineering physics to calculate the amount of energy stored in the seeds as they ripened ready for launching, and analysed the movement of the awn to see how it drove the seed into the ground.

The awn “behaved like a beam bending into a stretched logarithmic spiral.” He found there was sufficient energy stored in the awns as they dried out in the seed heads for them to break free, overcome air resistance as they fly through the air, and send them about half a metre from the parent plant. Once on the ground the awn coils and uncoils as the humidity changes. This movement drives the seeds into the ground, with the backward pointing hairs ensuring the seed could only move in one direction.

Editorial Comment: If it takes engineering physics to understand how this plant works, the real questions to ask are why and who was the engineer who made it work this way? We can rule out the plant. We should also note these seeds fit all our engineering requirements for being a good example of a designed object. All objects that we know which have provably been designed by a pre-existing intelligence are made of ‘natural’ matter and function according to the laws of physics and chemistry.

The designed object is not ‘natural’ or self-developed or uncreated. It has had a designer who applied their pre-existent information to matter and energy, to achieve a purpose that would never happen by natural processes alone. In this case, the seed awns and spikes are made of cellulose and other substances whose chemistry we understand. However, it is not just the chemicals these self-planting seeds are made from that enables them to work like this. They work because the plant is programmed to use its chemicals to grow in a particular way so the resulting plant structures are manipulated into an energy storing shape.

This plant organisation and programming can be traced to the plant’s DNA which is also made of chemicals, which also turn out to not be the source of the information which directs plant growth. DNA information is stored only in the coded arrangement of the chemicals, not in the chemicals themselves. So now to the basic question – which engineering genius added the coded information to the original DNA so that even it would be self-replicating?

Evidence News 16 March 2011

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