Prof. on the box

Image: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.

After his phyto­phyl­lic antics were revealed to the world last year, serial ser­i­ously sci­entific stunts­man Iain Stewart – our ori­ginal ‘Prof. in a box’ – has done it again. Not con­tent to use con­tem­por­an­eously gen­er­ated botan­ical oxy­gen (‘bot-ox’?) to prove one can sur­vive in a con­fined space sup­plied by plants alone, this time he’s using oxy­gen (pat­ently palaeo­his­tor­ical, putat­ively photosynthetically-produced) that’s 2.5 bil­lion years old! Gimmicky? Yes, a bit. Does that mat­ter? I don’t think so (cer­tainly not in a neg­at­ive way, any­way). Arguably, this is the sort of eye-catching party piece that might just fire the ima­gin­a­tion of impres­sion­able young­sters and turn them on to the power of plants and the cru­cial role they play in all our lives. The ‘aca­demic breathes oxy­gen’ incid­ent (which doesn’t sound nearly so impress­ive when reduced to its basics) is part of Stewart’s new 3-part TV series entitled, ‘How to grow a planet’, which ‘tells a stun­ning new story about our planet… how the greatest changes to the Earth have been driven, above all, by plants’. It sounds like a TV adapt­a­tion of David Beerling’s mar­vel­lous tome, The Emerald Planet ( so, it should be no sur­prise that Beerling is lis­ted as Series Consultant). Anyway, first broad­cast by the UK’s BBC on 7th February 2012, Episode 1 (‘Life from Light’) showed ‘how plants first har­nessed light from the sun and cre­ated our life-giving atmo­sphere. He [Stewart] uncov­ers the epic battle between the dino­saurs and the tallest trees on the planet. And, using remark­able imagery, he shows plants breath­ing – and for the first time talk­ing to each other…’. I can’t wait to see the full series – and its remark­able imagery (pub­lic­a­tion dead­lines mean that I’m writ­ing this in advance). If it lives up to its pub­li­city (which I have to say has been remark­ably low-key – I only found out about this from a chance con­ver­sa­tion with a col­league near the water cooler… How on earth are we to get over the ‘plants really are quite import­ant’ mes­sage if those who spend money mak­ing such pro­grammes don’t spend a few more euro to pro­mote them!?!)), it prom­ises to be even bet­ter(!) than the BBC’s 2011 series, ‘Botany: A bloom­ing his­tory’. More – plant – power to the Beeb, and to Iain! [The ‘res­pir­a­tion incid­ent’ – and oth­ers – is already avail­able to view (and incor­por­ate in bot­any teach­ing ses­sions?) on YouTube, e.g. http://​www​.you​tube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​l​w​M​k​S​8​W​i​xyI – Ed.]


Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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