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Low Levels of Toxic Gas Found To Encourage Plant Growth

samzenpus posted 1 year,6 days | from the what-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger dept.

Science 103

olsmeister writes "Hydrogen Sulfide is a toxic, flammable, foul-smelling gas that some theorize may have been at least partially responsible for some of Earth's mass extinctions, including the Permian-Triassic event, which killed well over half of the species on the planet. Now, thanks to a fortuitous accident, doctoral student at the University of Washington seems to have discovered that very low doses of the gas seems to greatly enhance plant growth, causing plants to germinate more quickly and grow larger. The finding could have far reaching implications for both food and biofuel production."

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103 comments

They've been experimenting with this in Texas too (4, Funny)

michelcolman (1208008) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480729)

Too bad they missed the "low dose" part of the article. Texans...

Re: They've been experimenting with this in Texas (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480765)

Too early to be funny

Re:They've been experimenting with this in Texas t (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480771)

They didn't. In Texas "low dose" means "less than all of it".

Re:They've been experimenting with this in Texas t (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480807)

T.t..tooo soooon

Re:They've been experimenting with this in Texas t (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481505)

Lame...

Re:They've been experimenting with this in Texas t (1)

tmosley (996283) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481589)

Anhydrous ammonia is not the same thing as hydrogen sulfide.

It would be in better taste for you to make fun of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Fewer people died there, and fewer lives were ruined. But I suspect that would have caused a much larger uproar.

Re:They've been experimenting with this in Texas t (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43482501)

But I suspect that would have caused a much larger uproar.

Of course it would, Boston's important, Waco Texas is, well, Waco Texas. A place so unimportant that Clinton had it firebombed.

Finally, redemption! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480735)

I'm good for the environment, so screw you all! I'll take a shower every other month, just like nature intended. Oh, and I need some more eggs and beans, stat! Do it for the planet!

tOXIC GAS (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480753)

Is up the tacos was ass too plus you Silvia too. When does gas frees dose any no I cunt remember at scoop the chill number

Re:tOXIC GAS (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481665)

Are you the same guy who posts a link with pseudo-random words pointing to goat.cx in every article?

An opportunity plants don't want to lose (5, Interesting)

KiloByte (825081) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480769)

This is not a case of Paracelsian "the dose makes the poison", these amounts are already harmful. Yet for the seeds, it's a hint that something bad happened to already grown plants in the area, and that if they germinate right now, they will have an opening they can grow unopposed into. This is a gamble, yeah -- the harmful agent might be still there in several days when it can possibly hurt the sapling, but considering how small a fraction of seeds get to produce a viable plant normally instead of being blocked by others, it's like Emperor's Day came early.

Re:An opportunity plants don't want to lose (1)

msauve (701917) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481267)

But it's odd that they didn't test with low levels of ethylene and ammonia, too. Those, along with hydrogen sulfide, are already well known to have roles in the ripening process of fruits. That makes me believe that the claim "Everything else that's ever been done on plants was looking at hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations," is overstated.

Re:An opportunity plants don't want to lose (3, Interesting)

plover (150551) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481433)

I was thinking along somewhat related lines, but I think the mechanisms might be more simple than "seedling roulette."

We see a pattern in orchids like dendrobiums, which are native to habitats where they undergo very dry winters. The prolonged drought of winter causes dormancy, which creates stress in the plants. The first taste of water after the drought triggers rapid growth and blooming flowers - in nature this immediately follows the arrival of the spring rains. We also know that if the spring water is inadequate, the plant will produce a few flowers and then die. It is often explained as "stress creates some kind of last-chance-to-propagate mechanism", but I believe it's simply another manifestation of the spring trigger conditions occurring in the dying plant.

It is also not uncommon for an orchid grown in a stressful artificial environment, such as one where it doesn't get the correct water or light, to produce a few meager flowers just before it dies. It certainly wouldn't surprise me that being exposed to a toxin like HS would create similar stresses in the plants, which could trigger the same mechanisms.

Random exposure to toxins would probably kill most of the plants. But I suspect controlled exposure could be exploited to produce flowers on a schedule, such as roses for Valentine's Day.

Re:An opportunity plants don't want to lose (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | 1 year,6 days | (#43483289)

I was thinking along somewhat related lines, but I think the mechanisms might be more simple than "seedling roulette."

We see a pattern in orchids like dendrobiums, which are native to habitats where they undergo very dry winters. The prolonged drought of winter causes dormancy, which creates stress in the plants. The first taste of water after the drought triggers rapid growth and blooming flowers - in nature this immediately follows the arrival of the spring rains. We also know that if the spring water is inadequate, the plant will produce a few flowers and then die. It is often explained as "stress creates some kind of last-chance-to-propagate mechanism", but I believe it's simply another manifestation of the spring trigger conditions occurring in the dying plant.

It is also not uncommon for an orchid grown in a stressful artificial environment, such as one where it doesn't get the correct water or light, to produce a few meager flowers just before it dies. It certainly wouldn't surprise me that being exposed to a toxin like HS would create similar stresses in the plants, which could trigger the same mechanisms.

Random exposure to toxins would probably kill most of the plants. But I suspect controlled exposure could be exploited to produce flowers on a schedule, such as roses for Valentine's Day.

There is some research to indicate it's also a bit of evolution. During studies of plants undergoing the effects of climate change, they transplanted some from California all the way up to BC to see what would happen to it given the lower sunlight (but same temperatures).

The BC raised plants were smaller and they put all their growing energy into making seeds and spreading in the shorter summers. The California ones put the energy into growing into huge plants, but because of the shorter summer season, didn't produce as many seeds to spread as they were still expecting a much longer growing season with more sunlight.

(And that's the problem with climate change - the amount of sunlight received is much less the more North or South you go, so loss of farms nearer the equator will not be made up by new farms opening up).

Re:An opportunity plants don't want to lose (1)

cusco (717999) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481883)

Emperor's Day?

Re:An opportunity plants don't want to lose (2)

lazyFatCyclist (2779453) | 1 year,6 days | (#43482809)

please read the Egyptian Sinuhe, a book by Mika Waltari. You'll love the book (everybody does) and you'll get the joke. http://www.amazon.com/Sinuhe-Egyptian-New-Portway-Reprints/dp/0855948450 [amazon.com]

Re:An opportunity plants don't want to lose (1)

KiloByte (825081) | 1 year,6 days | (#43484233)

I was quoting Ciaphas Cain books, which often make fun transplants of M2 customs into M41. And for Sinuhe, I can't seem to find anything similar by a text search (Day of the False King seems to be too far, and unrelevant), and it's been >20 years since I've read it (a great book indeed, by the way). Care to point out what joke you understood?

natural selection (2)

jamesh (87723) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480789)

causing plants to germinate more quickly and grow larger

So all we need to do is figure out a few genes to make h2s, splice them into a few rainforest trees, and let natural selection do the rest. Rainforest depletion problem solved.

Re:natural selection (4, Insightful)

skovnymfe (1671822) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480911)

And then we have a rainforest full of trees that produce hydrogen sulfide. What could possibly go wrong?

Re:natural selection (1)

hughbar (579555) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481121)

As in any 1950's science fiction film: 'Sir they're getting bigger!' Yes, what go possibly go wrong with all of this?

Re:natural selection (1)

MrNemesis (587188) | 1 year,6 days | (#43482061)

Not a problem! When hydrogen sulphide reaches about 100ppm, you can't smell it any more, and if the concentration gets any higher you soon stop caring about it :)

Re:natural selection (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 days | (#43493015)

Didn't we do this on Venus already?

Re:natural selection (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481171)

It be more interesting to see which pathways get activated by H2S and then create a mutation that permanently activates that pathway.
That would essentially trick the plant into thinking H2S is present.

Re:natural selection (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481239)

No, that would be stupid. What you do is figure out what genes detect h2s and hack them to detect something that's already there.

Re:natural selection (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 days | (#43493053)

I have friends who are already looking into this for cannabis production. Brace yourself for a lot of dead stoners...

Yes please, (0)

KraxxxZ01 (2445360) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480793)

give us more toxic food.

Re:Yes please, (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480863)

How does exposing a plant in its infant state to a gas that does not retain its chemical properties once absorbed (if it's absorbed at all) equal 'more toxic food'?

A vague attempt at research (reading the article would be a good start) before posting blanket statements would be much appreciated in the future.

Re:Yes please, (2)

KraxxxZ01 (2445360) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480945)

Plant can't measure HS in environment. It have to absorb it to be affected by it. From TFA: "But it is likely to be some time before he, and the general public, are comfortable with the level of testing to make sure there are no unforeseen consequences of treating food crops with hydrogen sulfide". Well, sorry for not liking poisons round my food.

ThioDHMO (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481277)

Absorb how much? It's detectable by the Mk1 human nose at concentrations well below the lethal dose. Plus it's volatile, so most of it will boil off when you cook it.

It may stink your kitchen out a bit, but then so does cabbage.

But a soupcon of caution is in order - it's only one square on the periodic table away from DHMO, a known deadly substance.

Re:ThioDHMO (1)

jones_supa (887896) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481557)

It may stink your kitchen out a bit, but then so does cabbage.

Actually, a professional cook avoids the cabbage smell by not overcooking the plant. The smell is said to be the result of hydrogen sulfide.

Re:Yes please, (3, Informative)

Khyber (864651) | 1 year,6 days | (#43482127)

"Well, sorry for not liking poisons round my food."

Boy, do I have some news for you. Almost every fertilizer we use is toxic to humans. Plants are this wonderful thing called a biological filter, and with the exception of some heavy metals, plants tend to break down most anything else and use it.

In this case, besides the germination and flowering results, plants use sulfides/sulfates for:

  Integral part of amino acids
  Helps develop enzymes and vitamins
  Promotes nodule formation on legumes
  Aids in seed production
  Necessary in chlorophyll formation (though it isn’t one of the constituents)

And a couple more things we haven't fully nailed down.

That explains a few things... (2, Funny)

MindPrison (864299) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480809)

I love to grow vegetables every summer here in my home.
It usually works like this:

1) Plant some seeds in fertile soil.

2) Water frequently.

3) Drink some beer.

4) Release some gas.

5) Watch the plants grow a little more.

6) Release some more gas...

7) watch the plants g.... oh well, you catch my win...drift, don't you? My plants sure do.

Re:That explains a few things... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481081)

Yo, MindPrison,

Worst. Salad. Ever.

Next time, we're ordering Chinese.

Great beer though. Thanks.

Re:That explains a few things... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43485297)

8) Smoke the plants.

Toxicity is specific and dose-dependent (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480837)

What's toxic to a human probably isn't to a plant. Even water can lead to water intoxication when taken in too high a dose, whereas for even a very toxic substance such as snake venom there is a dose below which there is no detectable toxic effect.

Re:Toxicity is specific and dose-dependent (1)

ledow (319597) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481491)

Dogs and chocolate, for example.

And, yes, I'm amazed that people are surprised that a "toxic to humans" substance is actually beneficial to plants. When was the last time you ate fertilizer / bug-spray / weedkiller straight out of the bottle and lived to tell the tale?

Soon our atmosphere is destroyed (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480853)

Soon our atmosphere is destroyed by greedy companies using this gas to get a higher yield. Also many countries do not care about pollution at all. A lot of vegetables are grown in China. Imagine if they begin to use this gas on large scale.

Hopefully it will not happen, but greed can cause so much mess.

doctoral student (5, Insightful)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480881)

doctoral student at the University of Washington seems to have discovered

"doctoral student"? The poor guy doesn't even have a name?

Re:doctoral student (4, Funny)

blackest_k (761565) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480893)

might have something to do with how the plants were getting exposed to the hydrogen sulphide gas on a regular basis. could be embarrasing

Re:doctoral student (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481347)

Pamela Isley?

Re:doctoral student (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43484105)

You insensitive clod! That's his real name. Doctoral Phillip Student. His uncle is the famous mathematician who developed the Student distribution [wikipedia.org] .

Frederick Dooley Re:doctoral student (1)

Fubari (196373) | 1 year,6 days | (#43485747)

From tfa:

"We found some very interesting things, including that at the very lowest levels plant health improves. But that's not what we were looking for," said Frederick Dooley, a UW doctoral student in biology who led the research.

Re:doctoral student (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | 1 year,6 days | (#43486247)

Doctoral students are not allowed to have names until their research committee signs off on the thesis. The whole structure of academia would collapse if students started thinking of themselves as human beings.

Plants (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480901)

Hydrogen Sulfide: They call it toxic; we call it life.

Catalytic converters (1)

PPH (736903) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480907)

So, that stinky sulfurous gas that they produce may turn out to be good for something after all. And here was, thinking that they were just an enviro-weenie plot to reduce the performance of muscle cars by restricting the exhaust system.

Re:Catalytic converters (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481079)

Are you sure that catalytic converters produce H2S? IIRC, sulfur is a poison to them. Actually, the only noxious gasses I can think of that cas produce is NOx, which is one of the things catalytic converters should remove.

Re:Catalytic converters (1)

PPH (736903) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481255)

That rotten egg smell they make is a sulfur compound. Maybe not all H2S (catalytic converters are capable of producing some bizarre molecular structures), but any decent chemist can clearly identify it by its smell.

Re:Catalytic converters (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | 1 year,6 days | (#43482081)

They don't cut much power and you can get a performance cat that will create no restriction. Their weight has a bigger performance effect than the exhaust restriction they create.

Senate rejects background checks on gun purchases (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43480961)

Hey douchebags: [Democratic] Senate rejects background checks on gun purchases in 54-46 vote

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/294571-senate-rejects-tougher-background-checks-on-gun-purchases

Just had to gloat.

Gloat.

Gloat.

Gloat.

Re:Senate rejects background checks on gun purchas (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43482135)

Thank goodness that guns are still easier to buy than cars, fertilizer, and many other things that actually have practical, positive everyday uses. All the innocent (child) blood in the world isn't worth a minor inconvenience during a gun sale that would actually put some of the burden of gun ownership on gun owners. It should be up to the rest of society to just deal with the aftermath.

Re: Low Levels of Toxic Gas (-1, Offtopic)

jonathonlettvin (2900923) | 1 year,6 days | (#43480995)

as Karen replied I am surprised that a single mom able to make $9084 in a few weeks on the computer. did you see this site link FAB33.COM

difference with regular manure? (2)

Psilax (1297141) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481087)

As far as I know (and even google claims I'm correct in think this), doesn't manure also generate H2S in a limited amount?
Ok the link between manure and growing food was maybe incomplete since they only thought the nutrients where mainly the nitrogen based compounds.

The only application I see is the hydro-culture vegetables/fruits here in Belgium and they already have no taste compared to real soil cultivated vegetables, and now they will get rotten egg taste?

Re:difference with regular manure? (1)

__Reason__ (181288) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481265)

The only application I see is the hydro-culture vegetables/fruits here in Belgium and they already have no taste compared to real soil cultivated vegetables, and now they will get rotten egg taste?

The difference in taste you describe is probably due to varieties being bred/selected for fast growth (and shelf appearance) over taste, not the medium they're grown in.

So this scientifically proves an instance of (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481287)

So this scientifically proves an instance of homeopathy?

(THIS IS NOT A TROLL, understand what homeopathy is before modding me down.)

Oh no... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481337)

You just know those crazy homeopaths are going to pretend that this proves homeopathy...

What could possibly go wrong? (1)

sirwired (27582) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481395)

Spraying a highly toxic gas (which cannot be smelled after it passes a certain threshold) over large areas of land? What could possibly go wrong? I know I'll sleep better at night knowing gas regulators never fail, nor do meters ever give inaccurate readings.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481461)

It would be pretty inefficient to spray this on fields, you'd need a near constant jetstream to have much of an effect. In big greenhouses and hydroponics installations, that's where you'd pump it into the atmosphere. Also it would be a good idea to do it in a controlled environment for reasons of soil depletion, rapidly growing plants I'd imagine would strip a normal field of nutrients completely. No such thing as a free lunch.

Although one place it could have major benefits would be in setting up self sufficient orbital stations.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

SQL Error (16383) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481841)

They didn't use the gas directly; they dissolved it in water, at a concentration of 1 part per billion (ppb). 5ppb concentration in air is detectable by smell; 10 ppm, i.e. 10,000ppb, is the safety limit for extended exposure set by OSHA. So the concentrations used in the experiment are quite safe. That said, in higher concentrations it is seriously nasty.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43482289)

Or you could plant around an oil field with sour gas. Most of the Permian basin in West Texas smells like butthole because of this gas.

How is this a new discovery? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481403)

http://www.ehow.co.uk/list_7520940_effects-hydrogen-sulfide-plant-growth.html - noted as DIY tip way back in 1978 (30 parts per billion).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3170546/ - full of references to similar work going back over 40 years.

Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481423)

Who didn't know this already? Not like it matters since it seems to be so dangerous to put to practical use.

Finally explains it! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43481477)

This completely explains what is happening in my underwear. I feel much better.

My pot farm .. (2)

burni2 (1643061) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481483)

won't smell like pot anymore, it will instead smell like rotten eggs :) ..

Re:My pot farm .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43483195)

s/farm/nursery/

And you'll be using levels far too low to be detected by smell. But otherwise, that application did immediately spring to mind. Indoor growers will usually dope the atmosphere with higher levels of CO2 to encourage growth, so adding a little H2S wouldn't be a big deal.

I don't know about you, but my grow op smelled like activated charcoal and ozone. Hmm...apparently I really miss doing that. I'll have to find someone in Alaska that wants to provide space for it.

Even arsenic can be healthy (1)

rvw (755107) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481507)

We take in arsenic daily in very small amounts. We all know arsenic is very toxic. So someone thought up this experiment and created an arsenic-free environment. It turned out that caused more illness than usual, so arsenic in small amounts helps us somehow to stay healthier. Source is the book "Wat is nu gezond" (What is healthy) by Martijn Katan, professor in Health Sciences.

Re:Even arsenic can be healthy (0)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481571)

Or anything else. Water, while essential for life as we know it, is extremely harmful in large amounts.

Could be stress induced (1)

Arthur B. (806360) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481579)

Many plants (I'm thinking of passiflore for instance) will not flower unless they are stressed. Why reproduce sexually when you just grow? Because your life might be threatened and forming flower / fruit / seed maybe your only chance to spread your genes.

Re:Could be stress induced (2)

Greyfox (87712) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481655)

... Why reproduce sexually when you just grow? ...

Spoken like a true Slashdotter!

Plenty of Room to Learn (1)

Iridium_Hack (931607) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481723)

It may not cause quite as big a difference as hydrogen sulfide, but it has also been shown that even slight increases of CO2 also cause an increase in the speed of plant growth. It has been known for some time that plants take the carbon out of CO2. How hydrogen sulphide works is not quite as obvious.

Wow (1)

lazlo (15906) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481797)

This sounds like quite an interesting discovery, and definitely has the potential to lead to some truly amazing dystopian science fiction. I'm thinking the movie will be named "Death Farm"

Welcome to 40 years ago, Slashdot (0)

Khyber (864651) | 1 year,6 days | (#43482163)

We've known this well before I was even born, how the fuck is this news?

Re:Welcome to 40 years ago, Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43482829)

No citation and you drop the F-bomb? Yes, it's quite apparent you're nowhere near 40. 12?

Captcha: beaners - lol!

Re:Welcome to 40 years ago, Slashdot (1)

Khyber (864651) | 1 year,6 days | (#43483023)

No citation needed - anyone with an actual education and older than 18 should know this. We were using this stuff since the 70s EASILY.

Re:Welcome to 40 years ago, Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43486039)

I think we're all still waiting on the citation...

Re:Welcome to 40 years ago, Slashdot (1)

Khyber (864651) | 1 year,6 days | (#43487599)

Plenty of them in the entire comments section. I don't need to post any.

Wait wait.. (1)

MassiveForces (991813) | 1 year,6 days | (#43482205)

If plants have evolved this and kept this feature... isn't it only a matter of time oceanic clathrates explode or whatnot and the toxic gas extinction washes over us?

Makes Sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43483105)

I know I have a gas line running across my ward to my house.
The Grass is so tall and Dark Green growing in a straight line for about 2000 feet.
It's almost like the natural gas leaching from the old pipes, make the grass grow good.
Or I guess it could be the temperature difference caused by the gas flowing thru the pipe.

Regards,
Anonymous Coward.

The teacher says (1)

poofmeisterp (650750) | 1 year,6 days | (#43483189)

In 6th grade science class today, the teacher said that egg farts help plants grow so we should stop 'dissing' him, whatever that means.

It works in animals too! (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | 1 year,6 days | (#43484007)

small doses of hydrogen sulfide given to growing infants made them grow larger and more powerful. They became the X-men.

Not surprising (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | 1 year,5 days | (#43488629)

Unless there's something extra-special about the sulphur being in the form of H2S, there's no shocking news here. Many fertilizers contain sulphur (in Miracle Grow as copper sulphate). Sulphur is 0.25% of human mass, and is essential to human life.
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