Jewels of a Messy Kitchen

I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University.

There’s not much to see in my apartment. My bedroom window is up against the wall of the building next door, and so are the windows in the living room and kitchen. Without much around to provide inspiration, and trying to find something interesting to look at under my Foldscope, my mind first went to the kitchen. I live with strangers, and I’m certain there are plenty of entities living in the kitchen whose discovery would send me into a panicked run in search of bleach and towels. While this surely might have been entertaining, and could have produced some interesting images through the Foldscope, I tried to play it safe and prepared some slides with safe-for-consumption subjects.

The first substance I trapped on a slide for observation was a small drop of a cheap Pinot Grigio. I figured that since the liquid is fermented, there must be something interesting in there to look at. The most interesting image I captured of the wine is presented here below:

White wine through a Foldscope.

I was expecting to see some tiny movement from bacteria in the fermenting fluid but was not so lucky, and I think most of the spots seen in the above image are dust that fell onto the slide or air bubbles. To be honest, I was pretty relieved that I didn’t find much of interest in the wine.

My next endeavor was to look at yogurt, so I made my slide with the same expectations I set for the wine. I ended up with some strangely pretty images — the one below almost looks like some far-off planet.

Yogurt through a Foldscope.

While I again didn’t see any tiny movement from bacteria in the yogurt, I did end up with an interesting pattern as the yogurt separated on the slide. 

Since the liquid approach didn’t go so well for me, I next wanted to see if I could find anything interesting in plant tissue. After 30 laborious minutes of cracking, peeling, and shaking a large, beautiful pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit, I sat in awe of the gorgeous seeds — jewels — in front of me. I decided to peel the skin off of one of the seeds and started taking photos through my Foldscope:

Pomegranate seed skin (1).
Pomegranate seed skin (2).

The beautiful pink of the pomegranate made me wonder if the pomegranate tree gains any benefit from having the tiny bits of flesh around the seed such a vibrant color. I would assume that the red of the fruit’s outer peel plays a role in attracting the proper seed dispersing herbivores and dissuading others. But since there is so much dense peel, light skin, and fleshy fruit in between the outside of the fruit and the actual seeds, is there any benefit to having the deep red flesh around each seed?

In the second pomegranate image, we see a pattern that looks like a little system of tunnels. I think this could either be from the way I pulled the skin off (if the fruit’s flesh stuck more in some places), or it could be inherent to the fruit. This pattern could be a method of nutrient distribution in the seed, though beyond this I am not quite sure what I am seeing in that image.

Diagram of a pomegranate’s anatomy (O’Grady 2012).

While the tunnel pattern is certainly interesting, I am more curious about the coloration of the fruit. In the diagram above outlining the anatomy of a pomegranate fruit, we see that almost every aspect of the fruit is colored this deep red and pink. Does the redness in the inner parts of the fruit deter unwanted herbivores in case the fruit is broken open? At the same time, does the vibrance of the seeds and surrounding flesh specifically attract herbivores that the plant wants to disperse its seeds after the fruit is broken open?

O’Grady, L. (2012). Effects of postharvest handling on nutritional quality of pomegranate (Punica granatum) Arils.

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