Good table manners are a requirement for seed eating

seeds setting a mouth on fireYou spy something that you think should taste pretty good, without giving too much thought to the potential hazards of the situation, you shovel a mouthful in and……………

Holley molley ……

F-I-R-E !

The resultant rapid expulsion of the offensive bite, could easily put you in contention for the spitting medal at this years Olympics. The explosive words, might also put you in contention for a visit to another place renowned for it’s fire and brimstone.

Bombs away

The immediate source of your discomfort, is typically a rather heavy handed cook, who tossed in a little too much chilli into the pot.

The cook managed to clear your sinuses, curtail your appetite and possibly even burn a little residual fat. But the real genius behind the bang for a bite experience, was the plant.

Plants often load up their seeds with a bit of a taste explosion, to keep mammalian “predators” from eating their seeds and in the process, destroying the family line.

Plants keep it hot

Plants don’t spice their seeds for human’s culinary benefits, they’re doing it to survive.

The future of a plant is tied up in its seed. It is imperative that a least some of the seeds produced by a plant, make it to a quiet fertile little spot, preferably some distance away from the parent plant. The spot needs to be just right, for germination to proceed, so new baby plants emerge.

Seed eaters are a big headache for the average plant – so plants have got to fight back. Plants can’t get up and run, so they engage in chemical warfare.

Spiking their seeds………….

Spiked seeds with a twist

A collaboration between American and Israeli researchers has documented how a desert plant, called the sweet mignonette (Ochradenus baccatus), has taken chemical warfare to a new level.

The plant deviously turns rodents, which are potentially devastating seed eaters, into unwitting allies, which act as extremely efficient seed distributers.

Taking a course in analytical chemistry

The rodents end up taking a course in analytical chemistry – the hard way.

The sweet mignonette produces an irresistible fruit – which rodents readily eat. But the seeds, tucked inside the fruit, harbour myrosinase enzyme. As long as the seed remains intact, the enzyme package is harmless. But, if the seeds are crushed – the enzyme leaks out turning gluocosinolates located in the fruit’s pulp into – FIRE.  Specifically a mouthful of hot burny mustard i.e. thiocyanate, isothiocyanates and nitriles.

Once bitten twice shy

Rodents only need to attend analytical chemistry class once or twice to know – crushing the seeds, is not a good idea.

Check it out, the little guys figure out how to enjoy the fruit, without setting off the mustard bomb.

Watch a video of the mice with impecable good manners.

Spitting for a purpose

The whole thing ends up being a win-win situation.

  • The mice enjoy the fruits of the plants labour
  • The plants use the mice to carry their seeds to dark cool spots, typically far away from the parent plant – a recipe for lots of plant procreation.

Mother Nature at her best !

Spiked seeds not just a problem for mice

As humans, we also like to exploit the fruits of a whole range of plants labour….

But, it is worth bearing in mind, plants are a lot more keen on sharing their fruit than their seeds, to them seeds are sacred. When we take on the role of seed eaters – we can potentially be victims of plant based chemical warfare.

Gluten is wheat’s big bomb

Wheat is one of the seed’s humans are quite fond of – we don’t typically eat the seeds raw, but we grind them to create flour. The wheat flour is whipped up into a host of human favourites, including breads, cookies and pasta. Products that are high in carbs PLUS contain wheat’s big bomb – a substance known as gluten.

Gluten is in fact a package of several different proteins which are designed to resist being digested, which is exactly what gluten often does – for the sensitive, this results in an explosion in the midst of the digestive tract, leading to the condition known as Celiac disease.

Gluten sensitivity can strike at any age and manifest in a range of troubles, primarily digestive but not exclusively. Not everyone runs into problems when eating wheat seeds, but for those that do – you need to do what these spiny mice on the back side of the desert do – avoid eating those damn seeds.

PS. Another potentially troublesome set of seeds are the seed oils such as margarine .

Intraspecific Directed Deterrence by the Mustard Oil Bomb in a Desert Plant.  Current Biology 14 June 2012. Mical Samuni-Blank,  Ido Izhaki, M. Denise Dearing, Yoram Gerchman, Beny Trabelcy, Alon Lotan, William H. Karasov, Zeev Arad
 

Interested in learning more about the chemistry behind those pesky seeds ?

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Further reading

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Organic or conventional – what do wild birds choose ? Broccoli builds a guard of honour along the gut highway The sombrero effect shields gut cells from the ravages of  radiation therapy

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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