The rotten egg stench of sewer gas, or hydrogen sulfide, usually smells of death for plants. However, a flubbed experiment found that the toxic gas also can be a potent fertilizer.
University of Washington doctoral student Frederick Dooley wanted to study how plants reacted as they were dying from hydrogen sulfide poisoning. At high enough concentrations, the gas binds with iron in a living organism and blocks cellular respiration, which causes sickness and death. However, Dooley accidentally used one-tenth of the amount of the chemical that he had intended. Instead of killing the plants, they were super-charged.
"They germinate faster and they produce roots and leaves faster. Basically what we've done is accelerate the entire plant process," said Dooley in a press release.
Wheat seeds germinated in one to two days, instead of the usual four or five. The germination rate for peas and beans increased 60 to 70 percent, compared to the normal 40 percent. Crop yields were nearly doubled. The results were published in PLOS ONE.