December 17, 2007

Carrot Seeds . . .

Ever wonder what a carrot seed (Daucus carota) looks like under the microscope, before distillation? Check it out here at the National Geographic Photo Gallery. It should be the first picture for 2008.

Posted by Rob on December 17, 2007 in Biology, Oil Crops | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 03, 2007

EcoPort: A Biodiversity Data Base Tool

When I first discovered EcoPort:the consilience engine I was quite excited. I had discovered a tool for classifying and tracking the biological diversity of the Earth, in particular, from my interest point, the aromatic diversity. After I had explored it a bit, I began to realize that this tool has the potential for doing what I wanted, but because the database is not populated to any great degree for aromatic plants, it probably isn't as useful as I had hoped.

The database has a powerful and fast search engine that allows searching its own and several other databases. I tested it with lavender and vetiver. Searching for all entities with lavender brings a long list of animals and plants with lavender in their name; you need to limit the search to Plants.  Once you get the list of plants, you can click on a link to pictures, or to a main entry. You can then get a lot of information about the plant, its biology, its uses, etc. There are some links to other databases with additional information.

Ecoport is like Wikipedia in that it is designed for the users to enter additional information.  You need to be an editor and I get the impression that there aren't that many. To make it truly usable for aromatic plants, our community needs to organize the effort to update the database. We have our own databases that have been developed by individuals and who usually hope to be compensated for their hard work, so it may be difficult to find volunteers or public domain information to update the Ecoport database with.

If you want to find out more about this tool, you can link to their information page for a good description of the goals and purposes. But the best way to find out about it is to jump in with both mouse fingers to the entry page and then the search engine.  Browse around and try it out. Or check out the sponsors page that lists 208 organizations throughout the world that have supported or participated in Ecoport.

Posted by Rob on November 3, 2007 in Biology, Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Organizations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 04, 2007

How basil gets its zing

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of Michigan are unlocking the aromatic secrets of Basil essential oils, as reported on They've isolated an enzyme (Eugenol Synthase) that "takes a basic building block [lignin] that is usually employed to make wood" and instead makes Eugenol, a primary ingredient in Basil essential oil. The scientists are going beyond earlier genetic studies and getting back to chemistry--identifying the chemical mechanisms that are used by plants to make the secondary metabolites. In the study reported on (available via Open Access from PLoS), they have determined the structure of the enzyme by protein x-ray crystallography.

REFERENCE: Louie GV, Baiga TJ, Bowman ME, Koeduka T, Taylor JH, et al. (2007) Structure and Reaction Mechanism of Basil Eugenol Synthase. PLoS ONE 2(10): e993 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000993

Posted by Rob on October 4, 2007 in Biology, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)