Weekendavisen: What plants can teach us – University of Copenhagen

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21 May 2012

Weekendavisen: What plants can teach us

The Danish newspaper Weekendavisen brings an article written by Professor Birger Lindberg Møller: "When you cannot move, you must adapt. And if necessary, use biological warfare. Or call for assistance. We have much to learn from plants in the transition to a bio-based society".

Plants will play a completely central role when we move from a society based on fossil fuels toward a bio-based society - both as providers of food, biomass for energy and as sources of bioactive natural substances that we can use for the treatment of diseases. We need to hurry if we are to become independent of oil by the year 2050. Furthermore, there is a need for collaboration across many disciplines such as biochemistry, biology, biophysics, medicine and humanities. Therefore Copenhagen Plant Science Centre is being established to gather plant research in the Copenhagen area.

There are so many things that plants can that most other living creatures - including humans - cannot: They can live with light as their sole source of energy thanks to their ability to perform photosynthesis. They can build a cell wall surrounding each cell, which can keep the plant upright without a skeleton. They have an eclectic repertoire of bioactive substances by which they can communicate with the outside world and attract friends and repel enemies. Plants succeed throughout their lives using complex biochemistry and chemistry to communicate with the outside world. With them there is no empty talk.

Once a larva grabs a bite of a plant, the plant starts analyzing the enzymes from larval saliva - and responding with nasty chemicals. Or summons with scent a parasitic wasp, which can attack the larvae. If you cannot move, you must indeed be very good at self defense. PHOTO: Niels Fabæk / Biofoto / SCANPIX