A tightly coiled stalk twists into the soil, and a seed takes root. Self-burying seeds are among God’s design miracles. Soon lab-made versions of these twisty marvels could help seed remote areas.
Lining Yao grew up as the daughter of part-time farmers in Mongolia. During her training as a computer scientist, Yao kept thinking about the problem of seeding in difficult-to-access regions.
Yao studied Erodium, a five-petaled flower. Certain varieties of the plant’s seeds use the self-burying method. A narrow, spiraling stalk with a long, curved tail encases each seed. Moisture—like rain or humidity—causes the stalk to unwind. The corkscrew action pushes the stalk upward and drills the seed into the soil.
Yao recognized the genius of Erodium’s planting mechanism. She worked with a team to engineer a similar device. She imagined dropping self-burying seed carriers from the sky in perfect timing with rain.
Instead of a single tail, researchers developed a three-tailed version. The result seems well suited to pushing itself into the soil.
After trying different materials, Yao’s team fashioned the device from white oak wood veneer. Their invention is the “E-seed.” The team’s research appears in a recent issue of Nature.
“Seed burial has been heavily studied for decades in terms of mechanics, physics, and materials science,” says Yao. “But until now, no one has created an engineering equivalent.”
Yao knew the idea was sound when she spoke to her farmer father. She says that when she “mentioned the idea to him, he got it immediately.”
Researchers believe E-seeds could also carry fertilizers, fungi, plant-friendly worms—perhaps even seedlings—to remote locales. The carriers could someday embed monitoring sensors into the land or assist in harvesting energy from soil.
Andreea Danielescu is director of a research and development group. She says, “Technologies like E-seed can help us address real-world problems—helping us avoid landslides, reducing the impact of invasive species, and improving reforestation of hard-to-reach places.”
Yao says, “The interest in the research from agriculture, forestry, and other disciplines has been encouraging.”
Both Erodium’s seeds and E-seeds depend on rain in order to work. Yao calls seeds’ response to rain “magic.” But seeds that self-plant and water from the sky aren’t magic—they’re evidence of God’s provision and common grace.
O God, . . . my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. — Psalm 63:1
Why? Even remote or deserted sites can be harnessed for growth with technology based on God’s own designs that bring life to barren places.