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Scientists turn to Popeye to save planet

Scientists have enlisted a new ally in the battle to save the planet - Popeye.

They have found that spinach, which gives the cartoon sailor hissuperhuman strength, could be the power source the world needs to combat global warming. The discovery could lead to a new version of the old instruction: "Heat up your greens."

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported last week that the leafy vegetable could provide the missing ingredient needed to make solar cells sufficiently cheap and efficient to provide the world with electricity. The cells work by harnessing the power of photosynthesis to covert light into electrical energy.

The MIT team - which reports its findings in the current issue of the scientific magazine Nano Letters - isolated photosynthetic proteins from the leaves, laid them on a thin gold film, and covered them with an organic material that conducts electricity. When they shone light on this high-tech sandwich, power was produced.

Professor Marc Dando said that they aimed "to take advantage of two billion years of evolution" by building on the way that nature had developed to convert sunlight into electricity, rather than doing it artificially.

But why spinach? "There's a lot of it and it's very, very green."He added that the team was now experimenting with peas too, and had thought of using "Olive Oyl" as a stabiliser.

The olive is actually ahead in providing green energy. Five power stations burning olive oil already supply homes in Andalusia, Spain.