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Liverwort reproductive organ inspires pipette design

The tool relies on water’s surface tension to hold a droplet

By
7:00am, March 15, 2018
umbrella liverwort

NATURE’S DESIGN  The female reproductive structures of the umbrella liverwort, shown here, capture sperm-filled water droplets under their fronds.  

The sex organs of primitive plants are inspiring precise pipettes.

Liverworts are a group of ground-hugging plants with male and female reproductive structures shaped like tiny palm trees. The female structures nab sperm-packed water droplets by surrounding them with their fronds, like an immobilized claw in an arcade machine.

Scientists have coopted that design to create a plastic pipette that can pick up and transfer precise amounts of water, researchers report March 14 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Normally, the female reproductive structures of the umbrella liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha) clutch the spermy droplets beneath their fronds around the stems. But researchers flipped the umbrella-like cap upside down and stuck it onto a needle so it instead resembled a broom. That rejiggered liverwort could capture a droplet when dipped into

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