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Chemistry in Nature

To celebrate Chemistry Week and COP26, we asked STEM Ambassadors to tell us about the chemistry that can be found in the natural world around us:

"These lovely colours on the tree are known as lichens. Do you know that lichens are a partnership of separate organisms living together? Those are: fungi, algae and/or cyanobacteria.

The algae in lichens, is responsible for the photosynthesis, which generates carbohydrates, these are absorbed by the fungus as sugar alcohols or glucose. Lichens containing cyanobacteria can fix inorganic nitrogen from the air, which is crucial for protein synthesis. Their Beautiful colours come from the different pigments found in them.

I love the beautiful bright colours of lichens. Can you find lichen where you live? What colours are they?"

Yasmeen Saad Farrag, Analytical Chemist and STEM Ambassador

"These small pink flowers are called foxgloves. Although they look rather cute and pretty, beware these flowers – they’re actually poisonous to humans!

Foxgloves contain toxic cardiac glycosides which are harmful to humans. However, these chemicals have been adopted into a medicine called digoxin to treat heart failure. Digoxin inhibits the activity of sodium-potassium pumps which control the flow of ions into the heart’s muscle layer. By stopping sodium ions from flowing out of heart muscle cells, this causes calcium ions to flow into them which causes them to contract and keep the heart pumping.

I’ve always been a fan of weird and wacky plants, especially when they contain complex chemicals. What other poisonous plants are out there? Are there any that we can make into medicines?"

Sydney Lo, Student and STEM Ambassador


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