The American Society of Plant Biologists is asking plant scientists out there- ‘Why Plants?’ Your response via their social media outlets could earn you free registration for their 2015 annual meeting.*
I’ve written before generally about why I bother being a scientist. But why plants in particular?
I have snarky answers. Arabidopsis smells better than E. coli. Chlorophyll and plant cell lysates are easier to remove from lab coats than blood. At least, there’s less therapy involved from the psychological effects of grinding up plants as opposed to the same treatment of other model organisms that can stare back at you. Plants are generally easier to wrangle than fruit flies and other more mobile systems. Plants even come with a ready-made system for long term storage.** From a purely technical standpoint, plants are an advantageous system to work with.
Of course, it’s not all roses with plant biology. Plants can take a long time to grow up for experiments and, depending on the system, you may need the patience of Job to work with them without going crazy. Since I care about the photosynthetic apparatus of plants, I think I spend just as much time with my samples in the dark. Who wouldn’t want to spend their days hunched over a fluorometer in a dark closet?
I also have serious answers, but first, a confession. I consider myself a biochemist-who-works-on-plants rather than a legitimate plant-biologist (although I play one on this blog). As far as biochemistry goes, plants are the most complicated organisms on the planet. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but if I’m going to work on one puzzle in my scientific career, I’m going to pick the one with the most pieces, the one that will give the most beautiful picture in the end. In my opinion, that subject is plants.
Photosynthesis, in particular, is more fascinating than the equation we all had to learn in elementary school. Light and water are universal positive symbols across all human cultures. The foundation for this is our connection with plants. Plants convert these substrates into the chemical energy used by the rest of life on earth. Sure, my body needs water in its own right and sunlight does elicit some metabolic responses from my human cells, but plants are literally our energetic connection with the cosmos.
For those of you who’ve always wondered, “Why does she work on that?” I hope this post has answered some of your lingering questions. For the rest of you plant biologists out there- what’s your answer to #WhyPlants?
*It’s in Minneapolis in June, so I have my own selfish reasons for trying to win a reason to escape LA in June.
** Give yourself bonus points if you knew I was talking about seeds.