April 12, 2010

Lightning Myth is Proven Reality

by Heather Falconer

If you have ever lived in rural farming areas, especially where large quantities of corn are grown, you’ve likely heard the old farmer’s myth that lightning storms will make the corn grow. One layman’s theory suggests that the nitrogen given off by lightning will be used up by the plants in an overnight growth spurt. Others suggest lightning fixes nitrogen in the soil, making it available for plant uptake. It seems, now, that these myths may actually have some basis in fact.

Researchers in Japan have shown that lightning strikes can more than double the yield of certain types of mushrooms. By applying gentle, high-voltage pulses of electricity to logs, researchers simulate the charge that would naturally be found in the ground near a strike zone. According to the findings, the mushrooms respond to the increased level of electricity in the soil by reducing “the proteins and enzymes secreted by their hyphae, followed by a sudden increase.”

The hyphae act like roots for the mushrooms, taking in nutrients and providing stabilization on surfaces like rotting logs. These hyphae also act as the basis for new fruiting bodies (the actual mushrooms we eat). According to Yuichi Sakamoto, chief researcher at the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center, who has been working with the research team, “it’s possible the mushrooms are giving themselves a reproductive boost in response to danger.”

Early research by the team also suggests that exposure to lightning causes Daikon radishes to bud early.

For more on the Nitrogen Cycle, click here.

Heather Falconer

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Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.