The common dandelion is cursed the world over for its ability to infest lawns and crops. But a Washington University engineer has found a surprising use for the pesky weed: the pappus of the dandelion — the white, fluffy materias surrounding the seed — can be used as a perfect pipette in the laboratory setting.
“We found you can actually use dandelion seeds to perform precise droplet handling. There aren’t many tools that exist for this,” said Guy Genin, professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science.
Genin worked in tandem with horticulturists at Washington University’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy partner Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xi’an, China, where he also holds the appointment of Yangtze River Chaired Professor. Xi’an Jiaotong and WashU also partner through the University Alliance of the Silk Road, an academic network associated with China’s “One Belt, One Road.”
The team examined the wettability of dandelion seeds, or how they are saturated by a liquid. While most materials can be wetted only by water (hydrophilic) or oil (oleophilic), the researchers found the pappus of a dandelion is omniphilic, which means it can be saturated by both materials. That rare trait makes it an extremely useful lab tool, especially when it comes to moving tiny amounts of either liquid from one setting to another.
Genin says the next step is to replicate the dandelion’s omniphilic properties in manmade materials.