George Whitesides: Plants are what connect humankind to the sun and the ultimate source of energy. But not every plant is adapted ideally for us and for the world in which we live.
That’s Harvard chemist George Whitesides. He’s talking about how nanotechnology can improve our understanding of plants, and ultimately agriculture.
George Whitesides: So with plants, there are an enormous range of very interesting problems to solve, from perhaps improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, to improving food quality, to considering how to make plants naturally resistant to pathogens.
To understand a plant at the very small nano-scale, said Whitesides, one should look inside the plant’s cells.
George Whitesides: A cell is not an empty bag filled with just a strand or two of other molecules, but a very, very crowded environment with many complicated molecular machines, that is, collections of molecules that perform the business of the cell.
Whitesides said he was humbled by this complexity.
George Whitesides: Take the simplest plant and ask, how on Earth it could be that a relatively simple genome, usually somewhat smaller than ours, can instruct cells to become leaves and stems and flowers and do all the other things that plants do. And the honest answer is, we don’t know. We don’t really know what life is.
Our thanks to:
George M. Whitesides
Jorge Salazar has conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists in the process of creating science content for EarthSky. He also helps host the 90-second EarthSky podcasts. Jorge has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He knows a lot about a lot of different things. For EarthSky, he has explored subjects as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. His penetrating research style, poetic writing, and ability to track down and speak with Nobel prize-winning laureates, all make him a huge asset to EarthSky.