Pesky Pollen

Help! I’ve POLLEN and I can’t get up!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Welcome, spring — and POLLEN!! I don’t know about you, but it’s got ME sniffling and wheezing. I wonder why pollen holds so much power over me?

Enter Ruxandra Cojocaru from the European Synchrotron Research Facility in Grenoble, France and team. 

The scientists used high-resolution microscopes to zoom WAY in on pollen. They examined its surface texture, and collected 3D images of the pollen grains. They also measured the pollen’s surface strength. 

And? Pollen is encased in a sponge-like wall with cavities tunneling through. It looks like SOLID FOAM! Solid foams — such as cork or hardwood — are lightweight, yet strong and insulating. And the pollen wall is about fifty times stronger than cork!

The researchers think the wall’s structure is likely why pollen is SO resilient. And, if fossil records are accurate, this could be the oldest naturally occurring solid foam!

Now I know why my nose has done more running this spring than I have. ACHOO!

Reference: Cojocaru, R., Mannix, O., Capron, M., Miller, C. G., Jouneau, P. H., Falconet, D., Pacureanu, A., & Stukins, S. (2022). A biological nanofoam: The wall of coniferous bisaccate pollen. SCIENCE ADVANCES, 11.