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Warming Means More Weeds

With global warming comes increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which benefits at least one species: weeds. Carbon dioxide acts as a fertilizer to invasive exotic grasses, resulting in higher growth rates and larger leaves. These stronger plants are also proving more resistant to the world’s most important herbicide, Roundup, which is widely used on genetically-modified crops.

Houseplants are safe from these effects and in the future, they may even alert you to terrorist attacks on the air YOU breathe. Someday, that potted palm in your living room might go from green to white, alerting you to a variety of nasty contaminants in the air, perhaps even explosives. Researcher June Medford has shown that plants can serve as highly specific sentries for environmental pollutants and explosives and says the detection abilities of some plants (tobacco is an example) are similar to, or even better, than those of a dog's nose. Medford says, "The idea comes directly from nature. Plants can't run or hide from threats, so they've developed sophisticated systems to detect and respond to their environment. We've 'taught' plants how to detect things we're interested in and respond in a way anyone can see, to tell us there is something nasty around, by modifying the way the plant's proteins process chlorophyll. Our system may allow plants to serve as a simple and inexpensive means to monitor human surroundings for substances such as pollutants, explosives, or chemical agents."

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