Mention “bugs” in the same breath as “technology” and the first thing that comes to mind is that something is wrong with your computer. But insects from the earthworm to the termite are contributing to technological advances in many ways and enough so that we may have to think twice about calling the earthworm “lowly.”
1. Earthworm Alchemy: Their Guts Can Make Nanoparticles
Scientists have found that earthworms’ digestive systems are an unlikely site for manufacturing nanoparticles. These beyond-minuscule semiconductors called quantum dots that, as John Timmer explains in Ars Technica, can be used for tiny lasers and LEDs with potential applications in detecting diseases, anti-counterfeit devices and much more.
An earthworm’s digestive tract is surrounded by chloragogenous tissue, an organ that Timmer describes as “the worm’s rough equivalent of the liver.” The researchers put cadmium chloride and sodium tellurite into soil, left earthworms in it for eleven days and found “visible dots — present at the edges of the chloragogenous tissue” that, when examined, “glowed at the characteristic wavelengths associated with CdTe [cadmium chloride] quantum dots.”
Next, researchers hope to see what other substances can be “processed” via earthworms’ guts into useful materials.
Photos from Thinkstock
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