A group of scientists from UK, USA and France have studied the structure of the leaves of the giant Amazonian water lily to see how the leaves can grow so large without becoming too massive for the plant to maintain.
The leaves are the largest floating leaves in the world and can grow up to three metres (10ft) in diameter. Finn Box, of School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester, explained: “Leaf size is usually restricted mechanically by the expense of maintenance. A larger surface area for photosynthesis uses more of the plant’s energy to maintain. The structure and load-bearing properties of the giant Amazonian waterlily give it a competitive edge: high strength at low cost.”
The research team, which included a physicist and mathematician as well biologists, found the structure of the leaf veins and their branching pattern provided the leaves with a strong structure that supported a large area for photosynthesis without becoming too heavy. The researchers wrote: “We show that the geometric form of the leaf is structurally more efficient than those of other smaller species of waterlily.”
The leaves are also elastic enough to flex when impacted by wading birds, and they have holes to allow rainwater to drain through them rather than collect on the surface.
The researchers went on to conclude: “Leaf gigantism in waterlilies may have been driven by selection pressures favoring a large surface area at an economical material cost, for outcompeting other plants in fast-drying ephemeral pools.”
Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden commented: “Remarkable structures in nature can help us to unlock design challenges in engineering. The form of these waterlilies could inspire giant floating platforms, such as solar panels in the ocean. There’s a lot we can learn from leaves.”
References: Oxford University news 10 February 2022; Science Advances, 9 February 2022 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg3790.
Editorial Comment: There is a lot we can learn by studying the structure and function of leaves, but please don’t give the credit to the leaves or the plant. The idea that growing in fast drying ephemeral pools somehow enabled the water lily to change its genes to construct leaves that are not only larger but have the special structures that give them strength and flexibility without extra weight is pure evolutionary wishful thinking. Selection pressure will only allow water lilies that already have these features to survive, but it will not create them. Selection and survival are real ecological processes, but they will not make any living thing evolve new structures and functions. These processes simply eliminate the ones that are not already fit to live in a particular environment.
When we study living things and come up with practical applications for what we learn, we are learning from the Creator, and rightfully applying God’s instruction to have dominion over the earth. In spite of accusations by sceptics like David Attenborough who claim that God’s instruction was a mandate to ruthlessly destroy the earth, God wants us to learn from the world around us and put to use in a way that will honour Him and serve people. Any destructive exploitation is the result of human sin, not God’s instructions. Attenborough would no doubt be pleased if engineers are able to build giant floating platforms for solar panels, and would commend them for this achievement. However, he and the scientists who studied the leaves should give praise and honour to the Creator of these brilliant, beautiful leaves that inspired scientists and engineers.
Creation Research News 30 March 2022
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