Nature’s Micro Flier | Tomorrow’s World

Nature’s Micro Flier

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Birds, bats, and bugs aren’t the only amazing “flying machines” in God’s creation.

On May 21 of this year, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket—its second privately funded, manned flight to the International Space Station. People were amazed by the incredible power of the rocket’s engines, which provided 1.7 million pounds of thrust to push it into space. They were even more impressed when the first-stage rocket landed itself, ready for reuse. The technology used to bring the AX-2 mission crew to and from the station is certainly impressive, and many are dreaming about a future mission to colonize Mars. If we were to send a spacecraft to Mars, it would need to provide everything humans need for the eight- to nine-month voyage, as well as the supplies necessary for beginning a new community on the red planet.

But what if God’s creation already included a capsule that could colonize new places while carrying life, with all the supplies needed to sustain it? Let us further stipulate that this vessel contains sufficient programmed information to control the birth, growth, development, and reproduction of its contents for untold generations of life. Then let’s add the capacity to adapt, within the limits of its programming, to challenging environments. A protective capsule, means of transportation, necessary food provisions—all would need to be included.

Further, what if the Creator shrank all that technology and payload into something the size of a pencil eraser and made it seemingly lighter than air? What if all this technology were contained completely within a quarter-inch capsule weighing less than 500 micrograms—and had to function without a team of computer-wielding engineers, physicists, and meteorologists? Is this ludicrous?

Not at all! Such technology is likely trampled under the shoes of sky-gazing viewers of SpaceX launches. Under their feet, embedded in soil, lies the common but remarkable dandelion seed.

Truly a Flying Machine

Dandelion seeds are some of the best fliers in nature, catching the wind and spreading as far as 150 kilometers (about 93 miles)—all without generating a single pound of thrust. Each seed is harnessed by a long stem to a parachute-like canopy made of hair-like bristles. The flower seeds and their parachutes make up the puffballs that children scatter into the wind. Recent research creates an intricate picture of these seeds, unmistakably engineered for flight.

In a 2018 study, scientists simulated dandelion seeds’ flight with a wind tunnel and man-made silicon imitations, along with actual dandelion seed specimens. What they found was a very distinct “bubble” of wind pattern that formed around the seed as it stabilized in flight—similar to what you might see in flowing water as it forms eddies around a rock in a stream. This bubble forms when just the right amount of air is allowed to pass through the parachute (“porosity”) and just the right amount of air is resisted by the parachute. The resulting air turbulence “connects” to the seed as long as the porosity stays between 77.42 and 84.97 percent. Remarkably, the seed itself expertly achieves this optimal zone of porosity! This remarkable balance is achieved in countless successful seed “flights” on six of the earth’s continents. No government or private space program has achieved such a success record (“Innovative plant: How does the dandelion drift its seeds?,” University of Notre Dame, 2021).

However, this little hang glider occasionally folds its “wings” and declines to fly. The dandelion seed is capable of making adjustments that are much like calling a rocket launch off at the last minute when a storm system moves in. When moisture levels in the atmosphere are high, the dandelion parachute closes, letting the seed drop near a possibly well-watered parent plant. The seed is also able to open the canopy fully, to take advantage of breezes more likely to occur in dry atmospheric conditions.

Miniaturization at Its Best

How moisture alters the dandelions’ parachute shape was a mystery until 2022, when a team of international researchers used humidity-controlled chambers and an electron microscope to study this action. At the base of the hair-like bristles that form the parachute, scientists found plant tissues that let the bristles open and close. These activating tissues absorb moisture to varying degrees, expanding in dry conditions and contracting in wet conditions—yet no valuable energy is used in this passive process.

Examining parachute bristles under their electron microscope, researchers saw the intricate way plant tissues are attached, arranged in a radial fashion that ensures coordinated, simultaneous, and symmetrical opening and closing of the parachute. This self-directed, weather-dependent, pre-flight preparation, along with its propulsion technology, is no less remarkable than any rocket (“Dandelion pappus morphing is actuated by radially patterned material swelling,” Nature Communications, May 6, 2022; “Engineers uncover secret ‘thinking’ behind dandelions’ seed dispersal,” Imperial College London,, June 1, 2022).

And there is even more remarkable complexity to the lowly dandelion seed than its flight apparatus. Like all seeds, it contains the genetic information needed to form a new plant that will itself produce seeds. Even the smallest seeds contain an immense amount of information. According to Scientific American, “The 74 million million bytes of information in the Library of Congress could be crammed into a DNA archive the size of a poppy seed—6,000 times over” (“DNA: The Ultimate Data-Storage Solution,” May 28, 2021).

The dandelion seed also has a component called the endosperm, which contains all the necessary nutrients for the embryo to form a seedling to take root in its destination soil. And the seed coat, without the aid of materials and metals composing a rocket shield, is sufficient to protect the valuable spark of future life within. This remarkable coat can even stay intact through the entire digestive tract of a seed-ingesting bird or mammal, so the seed can germinate and develop wherever it is deposited into soil.

Our Amazingly Engineered “Life Capsule”

Human beings existed for thousands of years without the benefit of rockets. But what would happen if a seed were not complete, unable to sprout and eventually mature? What if one part or one piece of an intricate seed were missing, or only partially developed and formed? Were it not for its synergy of parts and pieces, it could not replicate and form a seed-producing plant to continue to exist. It would be as useless as a multi-billion-dollar space shuttle with a loose screw. Seeds, which form a crucial platform for life on earth, would cease to be—and life itself would be jeopardized.

Rockets are built by engineers, machinists, and teams of scientists. But by whom was a seed first built? If it came from a plant, where did that plant come from? Some, like well-known scientists Fred Hoyle and Richard Dawkins, have entertained the idea of panspermia—that alien organisms seeded our planet. This is an imaginative way to avoid the mathematical improbability of life on earth arising by chance. But the problem remains—how did the supposed aliens and organisms come to be?

We don’t need to imagine the amazing reality of the dandelion seed. Even a lowly dandelion plant does not leave its succeeding generations without a full genetic account of the information governing its life. Might your Creator have left you an account of your beginnings? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out for yourself? Begin today with the Bible’s book of Genesis to learn how God formed a “space capsule” even more intricate than a dandelion seed. We call it Earth.


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