What’s New About How Plants Work? – Some “Tasty Tidbits” from 2013 (Twelfth Course)

How Plants Work: In the Rearview Mirror

Several of the “tastier” plant news items for December 2013 relate to topics that were previously ruminated on here within the past year.

So, why not finish off our 2013 “banquet” of plant news with a trip back to the howplantswork.com “buffet table” to re-sample some of this year’s posts.

  • An impediment for many plant systematists, field ecologists, and evolutionary biologists is determining the correct identification of a plant sample in a rapid, repeatable, and reliable fashion. To help solve this problem, one of the newest tools currently available to these scientists is a technique called DNA barcoding. For example, last month it was reported that researchers used this technique to identify genetic fingerprints of endangered conifers: Barcodes for trees.
  • Genetically-modified organisms (GMO), in general, and genetically-engineered plants, in particular, were in the news all throughout 2013, including December. For example, that Chinese officials blocked the importation of GMO corn from the USA was reported in: Why are the Chinese scared of American corn?
    The topic of GMO plants appeared several times during 2013 in this blog, including GMO? OMG! and Transgenic Plants – Reality Check. Also, back in July, I offered an ebook on this subject called “Plant Trek”.
  • Are plants “intelligent” organisms? What, indeed, do they “know”? For example, do they feel “pain”? And can they “learn” and “remember”? These are some of the interesting questions raised by Michael Pollan last month, in the New Yorker.
    The topic of plant “intelligence” has come up in this blog on several occasions, most recently last September in a post entitled Smarty Plants – On Plant “Intelligence”, the “Vegetal Life” and Philosophical Botany.
    There’s a lot of skepticism, especially among plant scientists, in interpreting plants’ responses to their environments as some sort of “intelligence”, analogous to animals. Perhaps the best answer to the question of plant “intelligence” is provided by Prof. Tobias Baskin in a letter to the New Yorker in response to Pollan’s article.

    I expect we’ll hear more on these and many other fascinating subjects about plants in 2014. With a bit of luck, we’ll be here to tell you about them.


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