Wildlife & Biodiversity

German scientists decode adhesive properties of pollen

The findings may one day aid people suffering with pollen allergy as well as help develop alternative strategies for agriculture and food production, as the insect populations are declining at an alarming rate

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 21 August 2019
Photo: Getty Images

A successful pollination by insects — important for agricultural and food production — depends on factors such as the age of pollen, humidity and the adhesive properties of the biological surfaces, according to a new study.

Pollen undergoes a number of detachment and attachment cycles at the interfaces of floral parts and insect body parts during pollination. Till now, it was believed that pollenkitt — an oily substance covering the pollen on the flowers — was reposnsible for the adhesive functions. But these were hardly studied so far.

Now, a team of scientists from the Zoological Instituteat Kiel University (CAU) in Germany discovered that the stigma of the flower plays a significant role in adhesion. Also, depending on duration of the contact and the microstructure of the surfaces, the adhesive function differs. 

To understand, they used an atomic force microscope to measure the adhesion of pollen on the style and the stigma — the two most important floral parts — in Hypochaeris radicata plant, also known as common cat’s-ear (or false dandelion).

Both style and the stigma showed distinct adhesive properties. During pollination, if style increases adhesion then the pollen grains could not get detached. The stigma, on the other hand, increased its adhesive properties and held the pollen grains after they came into contact with it.

In other words, the spontaneous gripping system of stigma drastically increased pollen adhesion in a short period of time. This gripping system was found to be even more effective for aged pollen or pollen with less pollenkitt rather than for the fresh pollen, the study showed, according to the study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

The opposite functions of the style and stigma helps “optimise the pollination process”, explained Shuto Ito, from the varsity's Department of Functional Morphology and Biomechanics.

“The newly found pollen gripping mechanism on the stigma is likely to assure the reproduction of plants by anchoring pollen on the stigma until fertilisation occurs,” Ito said. 

The findings provide knowledge about how insects transport medicinal substances and may one day aid in the development of special filters for people suffering with pollen allergy.    

It may also help develop alternative strategies in agriculture and food production, as the insect populations are declining at an alarming rate, the study said.

“If we can discover the mechanisms by which such interactions of microparticles and surfaces could be controlled, we could potentially draw conclusions for coating and printing processes, the transport of medicinal substances, or the treatment of respiratory diseases,” said Stanislav Gorb, professor at University.

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