Two stories of the fruitful work of Czech scientists on the international scale in this month’s Science Journal, both touching on key modern issues of food production and climate change.
“INCYDE, the name of the compound, is a shortening of “inhibitor of cytokine degradation”. Cytokinins are very important plant hormones that control a lot of important things during the development of a plant, including the development of the reproductive organs, so the level of cytokine is very important for these things. When we have a compound that is able to block enzymes that degrade such hormones, we can keep the level of cytokinins higher. This helps to increase the yield.”
At first sight it sounds relatively easy, but I suppose it is not. Why did it take this long to discover it?
“So, yes, it seems to be quite easy once you know the mechanism.”
This worked for the model plant, is it something that can work for all kinds of crops or only for specific plants?
And this is an entirely natural process?
“Of course, we are using a chemical compound that is derived from the natural compound, so it is an artificial compound that we are putting on the plant, however the concentration of the compound we are using is very low, because it is highly targeted. So we are pushing the natural system to fine-tune the level of natural hormones – the natural compounds that are in the plant. “
Next up on our programme is trioxygen, better known as ozone, and particularly helpful in keeping life on earth from being incinerated by ultra-violet radiation. It has long been known that various chemical reactions in the atmosphere interrupt the creation of ozone and thus make a kind of “hole” in the layer that is damaging to the climate. Thanks to Czech researchers from the J. Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry, we now also know that this is happening at a faster rate than previously expected. The team’s article on the subject was recently one of the most widely read in the prestigious Journal of Chemical Physics, and one of its authors, Michal Fárník told us more about it.
“At the popular level, people think that Freons are responsible for ozone depletion, and that’s essentially true, but Freons are not very reactive – just the opposite, they are very stable, and they have a lifetime in the atmosphere of 50 to 100 years. In this time, they can wander all the way up to the stratosphere, and there a number of reactions can happen which, in the end, release a number of radical atoms – chlorine or bromine atoms – which then react with ozone in a cycle that destroys the ozone molecules, and the chorine atom remains available for another reaction and destroy further and further ozone molecules until it reacts with something else and disappears.
“Now, in this scheme involving many reactions that lead to chorine radicals, some of the reactions are not reactions in the gas phase – not between molecules in the gas in the stratosphere – but take place on the surface of ice particles in the so.-called Polar stratospheric clouds.”
“Actually this scheme was discovered in the 80s and a Nobel Prize was awarded for it, so that is not at all our discovery. What we did was investigate these small ice particles, which we call water clusters – just a couple hundred water molecules bound together – and we investigated how the other molecules can see them, how the other molecules interact witzh these particles, and what we found out was that the other molecules can be attracted to these particles from a much greater distance than was previously expected and used in models. So what we see in our experiment is that the ice particles are generated much faster than what was expected in models of ozone depletion.”