Botany Q & A: All Chris Martine is Saying … Is Give Plants a Chance

Whenever my four-year-old comes across a picture of a baby animal—any animal, even a beady-eyed, tongue-flicking rat snake breaking out of its shell—she responds with an Awwwww. She even wanted to make a home for the slug we encountered on the sidewalk the other day, proclaiming, “It’s so cute.” Like many kids, she’s obsessed with animals. Christopher Martine doesn’t mind people of any age fawning over fauna, but he thinks it’s time that his own field, botany, gets a little love, as well. That’s what has led the Bucknell University biology professor to create the video series, Plants are Cool, Too!

“One of the missions here is to sort of spread the word that the plant kingdom is a really important driver of all the processes that life on Earth depends on, but not do that in a way that’s sort of stale and people roll their eyes and say yeah yeah yeah,” Martine says. Instead, he’s using what he calls a “guerilla botany” approach to “draw people in with the coolest stories about plants [and] also to highlight the person or people doing the botanical research.”

In the second and most recent episode, which has been posted on YouTube, Martine travels to the fossil beds of Clarkia, Idaho, to look at 15 million-year-old leaves preserved between layers of rock. Then he interviews a group of University of Idaho scientists who have been studying the leaves and working to prove that it’s possible to extract DNA from them. (He also eats a baked potato, which hopefully wasn’t quite so old.)

“That’s kind of a controversial idea that the DNA from those specimens can actually be accessed and sequenced,” notes Martine. “Not every scientist actually believes it’s even possible to extract DNA that old. This would really set back the clock for how far back we’ve gone with DNA technology.”

Martine talked to me recently about his hopes for the video project: Continue reading