Botany Live is asking scientists, educators, science communicators and plant fans from around the world to live-stream their fascination with plants, sharing experiments, botanic garden explorations, tours of a lab or herbarium, Fascination of Plants Day events, interviews, discussions and more!
The aim is to spark an interest in new audiences, reaching people who might not otherwise engage with Fascination of Plants Day.
Get involved by emailing [email protected] for a link to a Google form where you can register your livestream session! The event will take place from the 18th-21st May.
Have you ever wanted a free, on-line textbook written by experts and regularly updated?
Plants in Action is an on-line resource for students and academics teaching plant function to undergrads, published by the Australian and New Zealand societies of plant science. Each chapter has up to 100 illustrations suitable for Powerpoint presentations. It is also ideal for graduate students and post-docs in molecular biology looking for the whole-plant context for their work. Of the original 20 chapters, ten have been fully revised.
Could you begin by describing the Plants in Action (PiA) textbook and how the idea first came about?
The original editors and contributors produced a textbook on plant function that used examples from the southern hemisphere, with view of adaptations in nature to performance in cultivation. They were motived to communicate the strong plant science in Australia and New Zealand. PiA was born as a textbook in 1999, and ten years later went open-access and free online.
Who are your target audience?
Undergraduate students, educators, practitioners and researchers, and others interested in plants and how they function. PiA gets thousands of hits per day from around the globe, including developing countries.
What topics do you cover?
To the best of my knowledge, PiA is the only comprehensive plant science textbook with a southern hemisphere perspective. It covers molecular, cellular, and whole-plant function, in ecophysiology and vegetation-environment interactions, from Antarctica to the tropics. PiA features plants that are some of the best studied genetic models and crops, as well as wild plants.
The topics covered in Chapter 4: Nutrient uptake by plants involving beneficial microorganisms. Image credit: Scott Buckley, The University of Queensland.
Who has contributed to the textbook, and how did you enlist potential collaborators?
PiA was written by Australian and New Zealand plant scientists from a range of institutions, many of whom have worked on both editions. Chief Editor Dr Rana Munns and the chapter editors find new contributors if the original authors are not available, although occasionally authors volunteer contributions
What changes have you made in the second edition, and how are the revisions coming along?
PiA2 is being updated to reflect recent advances in plant science, and has a new look as software enables ever more attractive layouts, with no limit for images and illustrations. PiA can be read online and is easily printed, which is important for internet-challenged regions and for students wanting to add notes. Ten chapters are fully updated with several chapters expanded.
Revisions can be made instantly (as a wiki) but take a little longer if the expert skills of our IT assistants are required. Complete revisions of chapters are slower to come on board.
Encouragingly, some excellent contributions have recently been made by junior scientists who see a strong value in developing an open-access resource to share their expertise widely.
You mentioned the text can be translated into different languages. How might users go about getting a textbook in their native language?
Are you looking to expand on the work in the future? How can potential contributors get involved?
It would be marvelous to have a person with time and expertise to develop further materials to add to PiA2 in collaboration with editors, authors, educational designers, and students. This could include material specifically designed for schools and interactive learning tools for students of all levels. We welcome all contributors (irrespective of their connections to the plant societies), and they can contact Rana or any chapter editor.
Without plants, Earth would not give us habitat, food and materials. But with 25% of the global flora threatened with extinction, we need more people to understand plants, and what we need to do protect them and their habitats.
As popular British botanist (and GPC blog guest) James Wong wrote in the UK’s Guardian newspaper earlier this year: “gardening is good for you”. Ask most people how they can benefit from gardening, and they might suggest improved physical activity or stress relief, but this is only scratching the surface.
The People Plant Council (PPC) is an international group of researchers and other industrial and not-for-profit partners, which aims to understand the effects plants have on our well-being. By communicating its findings to affiliates and the public, the PPC encourages the translation of these findings into health-enhancing programs. The PPC was established after a 1990 symposium entitled, “The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being and Social Development”, which identified a need for scientific research into the influence of horticulture on human health and quality of life.
The benefits of plants
The earliest reports of horticulture being used to improve human health come from ancient Egypt, where members of royalty were prescribed walks through the palace gardens as a treatment for mental illness (1). Today, research from the PPC and others has identified wide-ranging psychological, physiological, and sociological benefits from plants.
Gardening is good for both physical and mental health. Credit: Shyn Darkly. Used under license: CC BY 2.0.
The physiological benefits of gardening include an increase in physical activity (and the resulting improvements in cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and aerobic capacity), but there are also some less obvious benefits, including better hand-eye coordination, balance, and an improvement in some chronic diseases. In one PPC-led study, elderly women took part in 50-minute gardening sessions twice a week, which led to significant improvements in their dexterity, muscle mass and cognitive ability compared to a control group (2).
There are also significant psychophysiological benefits to horticulture. Two interesting studies found that exposure to soil – or more precisely, to a common bacterium in soil (Mycobacterium vaccae) – improved the quality of life for both human cancer patients and mice by inducing the production of the brain’s “happy chemical”, seratonin (3,4). Contact with nature has also been shown to improve memory, concentration and stress.
People connect with each other around plants; whether it’s admiring a friend’s garden, giving a partner some flowers, or sharing a picnic at the local park, most of us have experienced the sociological benefits of plants. A PPC-led study found that horticulture was brilliant for improving peer relationships in schools too; a collaborative gardening program for small groups of 12–13 year-olds led to meaningful friendships that persisted after the class ended. The gardening students were also more law-abiding and social than the control group.
People bond over the experience of enjoying nature together. Credit: Amelia Wells. Used under license: CC BY 2.0.
At the IPPS meetings, delegates address the inherent impacts of nature on every aspect of our lives, including physical and mental health, and education. Dr Park elaborated, “The IPPS is attended by researchers, practitioners (such as horticultural therapists), and educators in various fields such as horticultural science, ethnobotany, psychology, nursing, occupational therapy, etc. The International Society for Horticultural Science supports the PPC, and enables us to publish the IPPS proceedings in their journal, Acta Horticulturae”.
A new book, The Hidden Life of Trees, claims that trees talk to one another. But is this really the case? The simple answer is that plants certainly exchange information with one another and other organisms such as insects. Think of the scents of newly mowed grass or crushed sage. Some of the chemicals that make up these aromas will tell other plants to prepare for an attack or summon predatory insects to defend them. These evocative smells could be seen as cries of warning or screams for help.
When plants are damaged by infection or by being eaten, they release a range of volatile molecules into the air around them. After exposure to some of these chemicals, nearby plants of the same species and even other species become less vulnerable to attack, for example by producing toxins or substances that make themselves harder to digest. These changes don’t usually happen straight away but the genes needed turn on much more quickly when they are needed.
But is this really communication, as humans understand it? It really isn’t clear whether a plant releasing chemicals intends to pass on information to another plant by doing so. I respond to the chemicals released by frying onions but that doesn’t mean that the onions are talking to me. So are these really messages or just the opportunist use of chemical information in the environment?
It seems more likely that these signals started out not as a way to send information to other trees but to get messages quickly and efficiently to other parts of the same plant. Pests or infections will often jump from one branch of a tree to the ones closest to it. But a warning telling those branches to prepare for an imminent attack might have to travel most of the way through the tree and then back up it if the message had to move through the body of the plant. This could be a journey of tens of metres in a tall tree.
A signal that can travel through the air, meanwhile, can go directly to the branches closest to the attack. A consequence of these volatile signals, however, is that they can be “overheard” by any plants the chemicals reach. So when other trees respond by also beefing up their defences, is it communication or eavesdropping?
Perhaps it is a bit of both. Maybe an internal messaging system became co-opted to help plants close enough to “listen in” as they would often be related to the tree sending the message in a classic example of evolutionary “kin selection”. However, releasing chemicals into the environment is indiscriminate and other plants and organisms can take advantage. Sometimes these chemical “messages” can attract pests or parasites. The smell of crushed sage doesn’t protect it from humans, for example … rather the opposite.
Not all transfer of information between plants is through the air. The vast majority of plants live in symbiotic relationships with soil fungi. We tend to think of forest fungi as mushrooms and toadstools above the ground but these only pop up after sexual reproduction. The real fungus is a mat of elongated cells spreading through the forest floor.
The trees provide the fungi with sugar and the fungi help the tree to gather water and soil nutrients. And many plants can be joined underground by cells of the same individual fungus. Sometimes when one plant suffers damage, other plants connected to it through their soil fungi protect themselves against future attacks while other plants equally near that aren’t “plugged in” don’t. This fungal network is another carrier for information, a true Wood Wide Web.
But who is in control? The messages are relayed by the fungus and perhaps it is the one really using the information, gathering it from one of its host plants and passing it on to the others to protect its “revenue”. The fungus helps the plants to communicate but may do it for its own purposes, and that might include preferentially helping its best producers, whether they are related to the tree sending the message or not. Information intended for family and friends may end up being passed on to unrelated third parties to profit the carrier of the message. In this way, fungi is a bit like a social media company, listening into and benefiting from its users’ posts.
So we return to the question of whether any of these examples are communication in the sense that we would mean it. Anything that makes people think more about plants is good, but perhaps making trees seem more like us can lead us to overlook their essential nature. As a slightly hippy student, what attracted me to plant science was the way that trees and other plants fluidly adjust to their environment. Perhaps using the chemicals that reach them to shape their adaptation is just another facet of this. Worrying about whether trees communicate actually says more about us than them.
This week we bring you something a little different!
Four eighth grade students from The Nueva School in Hillsborough, California are releasing “They Grow”, a scienceified version of the popular Drake song “Headlines” (warning: Headlines contains explicit language!). In the video the students rap about photosynthesis, starting with the basics and moving on to the intricate processes of the light reaction and the Calvin cycle.
With help from their science teacher, Tom McFadden, these four students wrote and performed their lyrics, then planned, shot and edited their music video. Tom’s “Science Rap Academy” class meets twice a week for an hour each Tuesday and Thursday. The students have been working on this project since January and are very excited to finally release it to the world. They hope that their video will help students better understand the complex process known as photosynthesis.
Watch the video:
More from the students:
“I think that this song and video that we have created will help provide students learning about photosynthesis with a fun, engaging and relatable way to learn how plants grow,” – Alex, coproducer and rapper.
“This song brings energy into the classroom while effectively communicating the perplexing process of photosynthesis. I think that this song will be engaging and entertaining, and was a blast to film,” – Stanley, coproducer and rapper.
“Our number one goal with this song was to make learning about science, specifically photosynthesis, fun to learn. I think that we were able to achieve that by scienceifing a popular song that many kids know, so they can really connect to it. We also made the video and song easy to follow and understand so people of all ages can learn from it,” – Jason, coproducer and filmmaker.
“This entire process was very fun, writing and singing our lyrics and filming the video. I’m really thrilled to share this final product that we have been working hard on to the world and I hope that people enjoy it,” – Quincy, coproducer and rapper.
The Chelsea Flower Show is a world-renowned garden show held every year in May by the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society. There are exhibits of garden design, educational outreach, and exciting new varieties of ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables, with prestigious awards given for each category.
The Chelsea Flower Show, one of the biggest and best known horticultural shows in the world, took place on 24-28th May 2016. Some 150,000 visitors made their way to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London, UK, to be wowed by innovative garden designs and especially by gorgeous flowers. Among other things, show-goers had the chance to learn the winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant of the Year award. This annual prize goes to the “most inspiring new plant” on display at the show – a high honor indeed given the number and range of varieties introduced each year.
The relentless pursuit of showy flowers for garden display extends back significantly further than the 104 years of the Chelsea show. One need only recall the infamous Dutch tulip craze of the 17th century to be reminded that fascination with floral novelties has a long and storied history.
Over the centuries, entrepreneurial cultivators have endeavored to create unique plant varieties, either by bringing together the genetic material from established lines through hybridization or through the discovery of new genetic variation such as a chance mutation in a field. Today, flower breeding is pursued with a far better understanding of plant biology than ever before, in some cases with the aid of technologies such as tissue culture and genetic transformation. Yet the goal remains the same: the creation of tantalizing tulips, ravishing roses, show-stopping snapdragons and myriad other plants that will ideally prove irresistible to gardeners and turn a handsome profit.
The quest to produce profitable new varieties – and to do so as fast as possible – at times led to breeders to embrace methods that today seem strange. There is no better illustration of this than the mid-century output of one of America’s largest flower-and-vegetable-seed companies, W Atlee Burpee & Co.
Gardening with X-rays
In 1941, Burpee Seed introduced a pair of calendula flowers called the “X-Ray Twins”. The company president, David Burpee, claimed that these had their origins in a batch of seeds exposed to X-rays in 1933 and that the radiation had generated mutant types, from which the “X-Ray Twins” were eventually developed.
At the time, Burpee was not alone in exploring whether X-rays might facilitate flower breeding. Geneticists had only recently come to agree that radiation could lead to genetic mutation: the possibilities for creating variation “on demand” now seemed boundless. Some breeders even hoped that X-ray technologies would help them press beyond existing biological limits.
The Czech-born horticulturist Frank Reinelt thought that subjecting bulbs to radiation might help him produce an elusive red delphinium. Unfortunately, the experiment did not produce the hoped-for hue. Greater success was achieved by two engineers at the General Electric Research Laboratory, who produced – and patented – a new variety of lily as a result of their experiments in X-ray breeding.
Though Reinelt’s and other breeders’ tangles with X-ray technology resulted in woefully few marketable plant varieties, David Burpee remained keen on testing new techniques as they appeared on the horizon. He was especially excited about methods that, like X-ray irradiation, promised to generate manifold genetic mutations. He thought these would transform plant breeding by making new inheritable traits – the essential foundation of a novel flower variety – available on demand. He estimated that “in his father’s time” a breeder chanced on a mutation “once in every 900,000 plants”. He and his breeders, by comparison, equipped with X-rays, UV-radiation, chemicals, and other mutation-inducing methods, could “turn them out once in every 900 plants. Or oftener”.
Scientific sales pitches
Burpee’s numbers were hot air, but in a few cases plant varieties produced through such methods did prove hot sellers. In the late 1930s Burpee breeders began experimentation with a plant alkaloid called colchicine, a compound that sometimes has the effect of doubling the number of chromosomes in a plant’s cells. They exploited the technique to create new varieties of popular garden flowers such as marigold, phlox, zinnia, and snapdragons.
All were advertised as larger and hardier as a result of their chromosome reconfiguration – and celebrated by the company as the products of “chemically accelerated evolution”. The technique proved particularly successful with snapdragons, giving rise to a line of “Tetra Snaps” that were by the mid-1950s the best-selling varieties of that flower in the United States.
Burpee’s fascination with (in his words) “shocking mother nature” to create novel flowers for American gardeners eventually led him to explore still more potent techniques for generating inheritable variation. He even had some of the company’s flower beds seeded with radioactive phosphorus in the 1950s. These efforts do not appear to have led to any new varieties – Burpee Seed never hawked an “atomic-bred” flower – but the firm’s experimentation with radiation did result in a new Burpee product. Beginning in 1962, they offered for sale packages of “atomic-treated” marigold seeds, from which home growers might expect to grow a rare white marigold among other oddities.
Burpee was, above all, a consummate showman and a master salesman. His enthusiasm for the use of X-rays, chemicals, and radioisotopes in flower breeding emerged as much from his knowledge that these methods could be effectively incorporated into sales pitches as from his interest in more efficient and effective breeding. Many of his mid-century consumers wanted to see the latest science and technology at work in their gardens, whether in the form of plant hormones, chemical treatments, or varieties produced through startling new techniques.
Times have changed, 60-odd years later. Chemicals and radiation are as more often cast as threatening than benign, and it is likely that many of today’s visitors to the Chelsea Flower Show hold a different view about the kinds of breeding methods they’d like to see employed on their garden flowers. But as the continued popularity of the show attests, their celebration of flower innovations and the human ingenuity behind these continues, unabated.
It felt particularly fitting to travel to a plant science workshop in Japan, home of hanami, the ancient celebration of the beauty of flowers. Researchers from Heidelberg University, Germany; Kyoto University, Japan; and the University of Bristol, UK, met to discuss their cutting edge research in a meeting aptly titled ‘Novel Frontiers in Botany’.
Plant science at all three of these universities is enhanced by their botanic gardens. Heidelberg’s sounded especially impressive: established in 1593, it boasts over 10,000 species! As a former employee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK), which was recently threatened with a £5 million cut in government spending, I started thinking how important botanic gardens such as these are as vital tools for research, conservation, education and recreation.
Kyoto University Botanic Gardens. Image credit: Sarah Jose
Botanic gardens are focused pools of amazing expertise in horticulture, taxonomy and ethnobotany, and this knowledge is constantly growing. Plant collections at Kyoto, Heidelberg and Bristol botanic gardens are continuously being visited by researchers studying almost all aspects of plant science. Some of the rarest species in the world can be cultivated and studied in botanic gardens without damaging wild populations; others are investigated for potential medicinal properties, evolution is studied by building banks of DNA, and we can get a fantastic overview of the diversity of life, from the microscopic structures of pollen to the architecture of trees.
Ex situ conservation
In the same way that zoos protect endangered species, botanic gardens around the world host and preserve at least a third of all known species of flowering plants.
One of my favorite examples is the wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis). Plant nerds like me will know that the wollemi pine was only known from 2 million-year-old fossils until field officer David Noble discovered around 100 plants growing at Wollemi National Park, Australia. These living fossils were propagated by botanic gardens in Australia and internationally, and are now a popular tree in cultivation around the world.
Another important facet of ex situ conservation is the creation of seed banks. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, established the Millennium Seed Bank in 1996, which aims to provide an ‘insurance policy’ against extinction by storing the seeds of 25% of all seed-bearing plants. The majority of the stored 75,000 species will be rare or threatened with extinction.
Botanic gardens often hold events, like the Easter sculpture festival at the University of Bristol Botanic Gardens. Image credit: Sarah Jose
Botanic gardens are a great place for an afternoon stroll with the family, which plays nicely into their ulterior motive: education. Plants are amazing but they are often overlooked. By displaying the most wonderful and fascinating species from around the world, botanic gardens kindle an interest in plants from the general public, as well as potentially teaching children where food comes from, or fostering a love of nature and the environment.
It doesn’t stop there though. As well as restoration projects, which often include local people who learn about the economic importance of preserving their native ecosystems, the gardens can be involved in broader efforts. For example, the National Museums of Kenya are looking to develop a botanic garden. The garden will facilitate the transfer and accumulation of ethnobotanical knowledge surrounding the relationships between the Kenyan people and their local plant species; useful information that will also promote the importance of conserving their local flora.
Botanic gardens are integral to the study and appreciation of a wide range of plant taxa, and their importance should not be underestimated. Too many people view them as outdated and push to cut their funding, but we need to show that dynamic and cutting edge research, as well as public appreciation for plants and the environment, relies on their continuation both now and in the future.
People all over the world are getting involved in the International Year of Pulses 2016, and it is easy to see why when you look at the amazing benefits pulses have for both the environment and health.
Pulses are a fit for the developed and developing world. Not only do they have the potential to help eradicate hunger, they may also help to tackle many chronic health conditions. Over 800 million people globally suffer from acute or chronic undernourishment, and two billion people are overweight, which is leading to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. The International Year of Pulses will allow us to demonstrate the integral role these nutrient-dense foods have in global food security and nutrition.
In the last few months, we have seen how El Niño, climate change, subsidies on cereals (excluding pulses), and lack of funding have taken their toll on pulse production. This comes during a time where we should be focusing on achieving an extremely sustainable and nutrient-dense food supply.
2016 is the year to put pulse crops back into the spotlight and give them the central role they require. We should be funding pulse breeding, giving attention to research and innovation, and developing policies that provide consistent signals on the importance of pulses.
This is why we are grateful to the United Nations for declaring 2016 as the International Year
of Pulses (IYP). Since its launch in November 2015, it has been amazing to see how IYP activities have skyrocketed, with social media achieving 200 million impressions to date, and media coverage around the globe of more than 800 stories. Over 1.45 million people have engaged with IYP social media channels across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The hashtag #PulseFeast dominated January’s activities and achieved a reach of 21 million on January 6, with 141 events in 36 countries. Read the full report here. Currently, there are hundreds of activities devoted to IYP occurring all over the globe.
We have seen some fantastic IYP-dedicated events in the first few months of 2016, including an Australian launch gala, a Pulse Feast Celebration in Sri Lanka, and a launch gala in Turkey. In the Netherlands, a food truck named Blije Boon has been giving pulse tastings throughout the country, including visiting four large supermarkets. In total, they have reached approximately 2000 visitors per day, giving away a wonderful pulse booklet for free!
One of my personal favourite IYP-related events is the LovePulses Product Showcase. The Global Pulse Confederation (GPC – not to be confused with the Global Plant Council!) wants people from all 193 countries of the world to showcase their innovations using pulses to develop novel food products, and to build awareness of IYP. We have national competitions in nine different countries, and a virtual online competition for those who don’t have a national contest. We are seeing some delicious submissions!
This year has only just begun, and with numerous events still yet to happen we cannot wait to see what comes next! Want to learn about other upcoming events or activities? Join the movement! Follow us on Facebook,Twitter,Instagram and Youtube (@LovePulses).
This post was written by Tilly at the Global Pulse Federation.
It’s the International Year of Soils! Tell this to someone and you’ll often get the response: “A year of dirt? Who came up with that idea?” So here is a blog post to answer exactly that and explain why soils are not just dirt.
Consider the world around you and all the things that make the earth a great place to live. We all require food, clothing, shelter, and water to survive – all of which are related to a single, often overlooked resource: SOIL.
Consider your breakfast this morning: did you have cereal with milk, sausage and bacon, pastries, toast, orange juice? What were the ingredients? Flour from wheat, oranges from a tree, milk from a cow that has been fed on grass, meat from animals who are fed with grains and forage feed. All your breakfast foods, and foods in general, can be traced to plants, and plants are dependent on soil! Plants get water from the soil as well as the nutrients they need to grow. If we really think about it, when you eat, you are “eating soil”, several steps removed.
Next, think about the home you live in. It is easy to see that bricks, made from clay and sand, are connected to soil. Lumber is wood, which comes from trees, which need soil to survive. So when you look at your house consider that it would not exist as you know it without the soil.
Finally, consider the clothes you wear. Natural fibers used to make clothing are all directly related to plants – cotton and flax (linen) are plant fibers, wool is fiber made from the hair of animals that eat plants, and silk is made by silk worms that eat plants. Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made by processing naturally occurring cellulose, which comes from plants or trees. Even synthetic materials are derived from petroleum products made from fossil fuels, which in turn originate from plant and animal remains that have undergone extreme changes deep in the earth. They too needed soil when they were living. Once again we see that soil is critical to our clothing needs.
Soil is critical to our food, fiber, and shelter needs. It also plays an important role in providing us with one other essential item: water. There is a finite amount of water on earth, and only a small proportion is drinkable. Given that it is constantly recycled, how does this water remain clean enough for us to drink?
In urban areas we treat water with chemicals to make it suitable for human consumption. However, many communities get their water from chemically untreated groundwater, which is treated by the soil instead. As water infiltrates and percolates through the soil, the chemical and physical properties of soil clean the water by removing contaminants. Soil is perhaps the largest single water (and wastewater) treatment plant in the world. Soil helps keep our drinking water clean by filtering it.
Soils are essential to plants and provide many of the nutrients they need to grow. In soils lacking adequate amounts of nutrients for crop production, we add some to ensure growth and a reliable food supply. These nutrients are then stored in the soil until the plant needs them. In this way soil acts as a nutrient reservoir for plant growth and survival.
Soil also provides critical support for the plant roots that anchor the plant to prevent it from falling down, being washed away or blown over. Soil also holds water in its pores. The water stored in the pores is removed by plant roots as needed for the plant to grow and photosynthesize.
To protect life we must protect soil
Soil connects us all. We need it to survive. As we move through 2015, the International Year of Soils, remember that if you know soil you know life, and with no soil there would be no life.
IYS is based around 12 monthly themes to reflect the diverse values of soils: information on these is available here. The SSSA also has a YouTube channel exploring the importance of soil, and a blog.
I grew up with a lot of music in my home. My mother is a voice teacher and we had a constant stream of students filling our house with scales, show tunes, and arias. I wish I could say that as a teenager I graciously accepted music’s place in my home and regularly took advantage of my mom’s expertise, but I didn’t. I instead tried to drown out the incessant singing by watching re-runs of Dragon-Ball Z and playing after-school sports.
So it is ironic that as a scientist I would find myself drawn back to music in order to communicate the importance of plant science research to those outside of academic circles. This communication is made possible through the Sounds of Science, a collaboration between plant scientists and music composition students.
What does plant science sound like?
The premise of Sounds of Science is simple. More people go to music concerts than lectures, so what if we made a lecture more like a concert?
To make our science into music we handed our primary research data to a group of talented music composition students at the University of Illinois (USA) and told them to create. The end results were varied compositions that reflected the nuance of the science in surprising ways. The culmination of the collaboration was a concert, at which we scientists talked about the importance of our work, before debuting the composition.
Our first year’s performance featured piano and flute duets, electronic experiences, and even a photosynthesis rap. The performance was well attended and the concert was even broadcast via public television to over 40,000 households in central Illinois.
Some of the end results were surprising, and perhaps not what the scientists had imagined. However, transforming data into music attached more emotion to the science, and proved a fantastic way to highlight the importance of the plant sciences.
Thanks to the success of this project, we are expanding the collaboration into a yearly event. Like any good concert, we are trying to create an integrated experience from the time you sit down to the time you applaud. Think of it as a cross between a TED talk and a good movie. I hope to keep you updated with how it turns out in the fall.
But music can’t just be written about! If you’ve enjoyed the highlights video above and have an hour to spare get the full experience here:
I hope that the project will illustrate what plants can do for us, and how we are using what we know about plants to not only fill textbooks, but to make the world a better place.