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Paper and sponge made from pollen

Sponge (left) and paper produced from sunflower pollen grains

NTU Singapore

The hardness of pollen grains, the male reproductive cells of plants with seeds, is comparable to diamonds. Its external wall, the exine, is formed of a highly stable polymer, resistant to the actions of chemical compounds. In nature, the exine only loses its rigidity when the pollen grain meets the female reproductive organ of the plant, where enzymes transform some of its components, making it malleable. Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore found that a chemical bath of potassium hydroxide softens the exine and changes its physical properties. Using this strategy, Teng-Fei Fan and his colleagues transformed grains of sunflower pollen into a microgel with controllable properties and synthesized products with consistencies of gel, paper, and sponge (Nature Communications, March 19). Tests suggest the material is compatible with living tissue and could be used in wound dressings and prostheses.