Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Queen pricks her finger whilst tatting!

…and that, according to the fable, is how the exquisite lace doily of Daucus carota got a single dark red (or blue) floret as the centerpiece of its umbelliferous inflorescence.

The queen was Anne of Denmark, of course
(See biography) and the plant is the Wild Carrot, the same species (but different sub-species) as our orange root veggie.

I have spent several hours in the past couple of weeks photographing this amazing plant in various stages of demonstrating its tatting talent. So some separate posts will certainly be required to do justice to the development of the blooms. But this time I want us to think together about that tiny central blossom.

How does this plant “know” how to make one pigmented floret in the exact center of a sea of white? And how does it know how to synthesize those complex anthocyanin molecules and pour them into the central vacuoles of the cells of that one floret? It’s genetically programmed, of course. But saying that is letting us off far too easy. The following description of the biosynthesis of anthocyanins should convince us of the complexity of the process:

Anthocyanin pigments are assembled like all other
flavonoids from two different streams of chemical raw materials in the cell:
One stream involves the
shikimate pathway to produce the amino acid phenylalanine. (see phenylpropanoids)
The other stream produces 3 molecules of
malonyl-CoA, a C3 unit from a C2 unit (acetyl-CoA). These streams meet and are coupled together by the enzyme chalcone synthase (CHS), which forms an intermediate chalcone via a polyketide folding mechanism that is commonly found in plants.
The chalcone is subsequently isomerized by the enzyme chalcone isomerase (CHI) to the prototype pigment
Naringenin is subsequently oxidized by enzymes such as flavanone hydroxylase (FHT or F3H), flavonoid 3' hydroxylase and flavonoid 3' 5'-hydroxylase.
These oxidation products are further reduced by the enzyme dihydroflavonol 4-reductase (DFR) to the corresponding leucoanthocyanidins.
It was believed that leucoanthocyanidins are the immediate precursors of the next enzyme, a dioxygenase referred to as anthocyanidin synthase (ANS) or leucoanthocyanidin dioxygenase (LDOX). It was recently shown however that flavan-3-ols, the products of leucoanthocyanidin reductase (LAR), are the true substrates of ANS/LDOX.
The resulting, unstable anthocyanidins are further coupled to sugar molecules by enzymes like UDP-3-O-glucosyl transferase to yield the final relatively stable anthocyanins.

More than five enzymes* are thus required to synthesize these pigments, each working in concert. Any even minor disruption in any of the mechanisms of these enzymes by either genetic or environmental factors would halt anthocyanin production.

*Enzymes, large, three-dimensional protein molecules, are far more complex than the anthocyanins they are responsible for synthesizing.

We all understood that, right? Just think how long it took very smart biochemists, working in million-dollar, government-funded laboratories, to work out those biochemical pathways! And we are expected to believe that “nature,” given millions of years, figured out how to do it by a long series of DNA-damaging accidents and natural selection!

Right—and we are all just “lucky mud.” Probability theorists would tell us that the "Queen Anne's lace-making boo-boo tale" would be infinitely more likely than any evolutionary just-so story in explaining the existence of the magical Daucus carota "blood spot"-- or even one of the machine-like enzymes necessary to make it!

(Note: click on the photos to magnify the magnificence of the Queen's work.)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monarda Musings

The meadow is ablaze with Wild Bergamot! Well, maybe not ablaze, unless the blazes are gas flames—but even that doesn’t quite describe the pale, lavender-ish color of Monarda fistulosa blooms. Whatever the tint, there is a lot of it in the meadow in July. The bees are happy!

We have three Monardas showing off at the Celery Farm. To see the other two, you’ll have to mosey off to the Butterfly Garden. It’s worth the trip. The showstopper is, of course, Monarda didyma, called Bee-balm or Oswego Tea. It’s red—very red—intensely red—like no other! Unlike some of my photos, I didn’t adjust or try to boost the color. You can’t intensify intense!

If Oswego Tea is too strong for your taste and Wild Bergamot a bit washed out by comparison, maybe you will prefer the Purple Bergamot, whose complexion seemingly is achieved by mixing the other two paint colors. Its scientific name is perfectly descriptive: Monarda media.

Don’t limit your Butterfly Garden visit to Monarda musings. The faithful garden ladies have planted and cared for a floral phantasmagoria, designed to attract fluttering Lepidopterans—but we humans are certainly allowed to admire the beauty and fragrance of this special place. Rest a spell on the bench.
(Click on the pictures to make them even more phantasmagorical.) Note: the photo of the garden scene was taken well before its prime season--July is much better than June.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Appreciation of Asclepias

It’s mid-July, if you can believe it! The flowering season for the Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is through, and the plants have entered one of the least attractive periods of their life cycle. Shriveled, brown remains of their once glorious flowerheads hang dejectedly, perhaps reflecting on the inefficiency of their clever pollination scheme. Of the dozens of blossoms making up each umbel, only one, two—rarely three—have been successfully pollinated. Those successes are now evidenced by the presence of small but growing seed pods (technically “follicles”). These puffy, rubbery nurseries will continue to grow, then dry, ultimately to release hundreds of parachute-equipped, wind-borne seeds come fall.

As Asclepias syriaca finishes blooming, other representatives of the Genus take over—at least three at the Celery Farm.

On your walk at Phair’s Pond, rest a moment on the new Carlos Lopez bench. As you look toward the pond, you will see at water’s edge a small stand of A. exaltata, the Poke Milkweed, with its loose, drooping umbels of whitish, magenta-tinted flowers. It’s a smaller, more delicate species than its more common relative.

Further along the Phair’s Pond path, several specimens of Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata, will catch your attention. Their intense pink-purple color and the intricate engineering of their typical milkweed floral design will demand your close examination and appreciation. You may even meet a dapper, chitin-clad longhorn beetle while you are admiring the flowers. The Pirie Platform area is another good spot to see this amazing plant.

Just coming into bloom in mid-July is perhaps the most brilliantly colored of the milkweeds, A. tuberosa, the Butterfly-weed. Look for it in the Butterfly Garden and later on in the Wildflower Meadow.

Visit the Celery Farm soon, while the Asclepias show lasts—or at least enjoy the small gallery of photos presented here—all taken within the past week. (Click on each photo to enjoy its full detail.)

And as always, I will remind us all to give all glory to the One Who very intelligently designed these plants and Who upholds them in spite of the curse that sin has brought on His creation (Romans 8:19-22).

Monday, July 14, 2008

But some orange is nice!

I revamped this blog and got rid of that horrible orange Blogger template. But I kept an orange-ish colored title. Then I posted pictures of flies on Oxeye, which is pretty orange. Now, since Oxeye (False Sunflower) is one of my favorite meadow flowers, you are probably going to have to put up with even more orange over the course of several posts. Get used to it.

In this little gallery (just a taste of things to come) we see a typical flower head with nearly all of its disc flowers fully open. Notice the Hemipteran insect (bug) “walking the plank” on one of the ray flowers. Then I’ve zoomed in on a group of disc flowers to show their intricate design and precise alignment. (Click on the pictures to get their full impact.)

All this talk of flower heads, ray flowers and disc flowers may be confusing or arcane for those of you not familiar with members of the composite family (daisies, asters and the like). Our oxeyes are usually taken as single flowers, when in fact they are actually big, precisely organized groups of specialized flowers. The “she loves me, she loves me not” “petals” are really individual “ray flowers” consisting of one petal and little else. The central disc is made up of somewhat more complete flowers with the reproductive parts, either stamens or pistils or both. The whole assembly is precisely designed to attract pollinators, reward them with nectar and then have them unknowingly do the vital work of pollination.

In the last post, I copped out of explaining the “false” in the name of False Sunflower. I’ll continue to do that until I find a photograph that shows the critical feature clearly enough to be convincing. (Actually, the extreme close-up view does show the feature in the lower right. But it's a rather shriveled up example, so I'll make you wait--I'm sure that you'll be holding your breath!)

Some (but probably not many) may be wondering why I spell “disc” with a c rather than with a k. Disk is certainly an acceptable spelling, but with the advent of “compact discs”, almost always spelled with a c, I’ve chosen, for the sake of consistency, to take a C grade on my report card, rather than a K grade. And that, dear friends, is a joke so private that only a few old Ramsey High School teachers would get it.

But at least I’ve got you wondering. Please email me at
tomburr@optonline.net if you get it or would like an explanation of “K grades”.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bioman goes green

...maybe a bit TOO green! Do you miss the orange? I don't. I thought it was time to take advantage of Blogger's new templates and get rid of that ugly orange. Most likely, I will be making some changes as I learn how to use all the new tools, but for now, enjoy all the old stuff as well as new posts in a more soothing pastoral hue, more in line with the Creator's green theme.

Bioman (maybe that old appellation, as well, will fade into this sea of green. Time will tell.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Voracious Aliens Plunder the Oxeyes

OK, they’re not from outer space, even though they look like they could be. In fact, they’re not even aliens in the biogeographical sense, since they are native to North America--870+ species of them. They are the Syrphid flies.

These members of the Family Syrphidae are called flower flies for obvious reasons. They are also called yellow jacket mimics, bee mimics or wasp mimics, depending on which group of Hymenopterans they are trying to imitate. Another common name for them is "hover flies", because they—hover.

Looking like a vicious stinging insect when in fact you are a harmless lapping insect should, in theory, protect you from predation. But being too small (less than ½ inch) to really look dangerous probably makes you look like Mickey Rooney trying to mimic Sylvester Stallone. Only macro photography has any chance of making these tiny Dipterans look treacherous.

The pictured Lilliputians are filling their tiny tanks from the nectaries of one of my favorite meadow flowers, the Oxeye or False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides. Shall I attempt here an explanation of the “false” in their name? Nah! Maybe next time.

(Click on the pictures to make the Rooney's look more Stallone-ish.)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Rambling about the Brambles

The crumpled-paper petals of the bramble blossoms are gone now, having been replaced by lumpy, multi-hued aggregate fruits in various stages of ripening.

The fruits are called aggregate because each surface lump grew from a separate ovary in the base of the flower. Each ovary had its own style and stigma, each one of which received a separate pollen grain to fertilize an individual ovule—or maybe not (more about that later). The result is a lumpy, fused bunch of “drupelets” that we call a blackberry (or raspberry). So the bad news is that a blackberry is not really a berry, according to the botanists’ persnickety terminology. A true berry contains many seeds in a single ovary. (A tomato--with or without Salmonella--is technically a berry. But calling it that in public will surely start an argument.)

Another bit of bad news, at least for those who care about identifying wild plants, is that there are at least 205 species of these prickly plants called brambles (Genus Rubus). All that taxonomic splitting is based on such picayune details that none but the most (resist inserting that rather crude Freudian term) botanist would even bother. It gets messier. As suggested earlier, some populations of brambles reproduce asexually, with seeds developing from unfertilized ovules. That can produce little local, cloned microspecies—and who knows how many of those there might be--perhaps thousands!

Don’t let this inane Linnaean rambling inhibit your taste for the wild bramble aggregate fruits—or from your brazenly calling them berries! If you can beat the birds and other wildlife to them, they are not only tasty, but are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin for your eyes.

And what about that other BlackBerry ™, the wireless, thumb-operated e-mail phone device of Canadian origin? It took the people at Lexicon Branding, Inc. several weeks of haggling to come up with the BlackBerry name. That means that corporate committees may be even more anal—there, I said it—than botanical taxonomists.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

This Essay Stinks!

Fellow blogger Jim Wright recently posted a photo of a strange, brightly colored fungus and asked for help in identifying it. After glancing at a couple of books and web sites, I mistakenly called it “Columned Stinkhorn”. A day later I looked at one more field guide and changed my mind. It turned out to be “Stinky Squid,” a related species.

Its name is certainly appropriate. Its horns somewhat resemble a squid’s tentacles. And it, along with the other stinkhorns, uses flies to spread its spores. Smelling like rotting meat or dead bodies is a good idea for attracting flies. In fact, when I gently nudged these specimens to position them for their portraits, then took a whiff of my hand—Whew!

The chemical compounds that impart the odor certainly have appropriate names: putrescene and cadaverine. They are so powerful that their presence in only 5 to 10 parts per million is enough to create a stink. Some flowers use the same tactics to draw flies to carry their pollen grains, which after all, are also technically spores (microspores).

Plants and fungi (now classified in separate kingdoms) are incredibly complex chemical factories, capable of producing thousands of organic compounds, not just to stink up the place but as sources of our food, supplements, drugs and a whole lot more. Be sure to thank their Creator for them every day!

When I got home from photographing the Stinky Squids, I washed my hands (of the whole matter?) so I would be just a little less likely to draw flies.