Science and the sacred lotus

By Andrea Miller

The lotus is a favorite Buddhist symbol. After all, it grows in the mud of materialism or suffering, but blooms pristinely above the water’s surface, symbolizing the achievement of purity or enlightenment. There are other plants that have similarly water-resistant and dirt-repelling surfaces but scientists refer to the phenomenon as the “lotus effect.” In 1964, the lotus effect was studied by scientists for the first time and since then it’s been adapted for industrial use.

Now researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia are uncovering additional secrets of the sacred lotus. That is, they have sequenced and described its genome. The focus of the team’s research is on the lotus’s ability to generate heat and regulate its temperature like a warm-blooded animal. Apparently, the evolutionary advantage of a warm flower is that it attracts pollinating insects. The lotus has a biochemical pathway that it uses for generating heat and it has the ability to switch this pathway on or off, depending on whether more or less heat would be advantageous.

On Science Alert, Associate Professor Jenny Watling is quoted as saying  “Other flowering plants also have this metabolic pathway, but few use it to the same amazing extent as the lotus.”

And here’s one more amazing lotus fact: The sacred lotus, one of the world’s oldest flowering plants, produces seeds with a remarkable shelf life. They are viable for more than a thousand years.

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