Human World

Nanotechnology will teach us plants’ secrets

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.

Thanks today to the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service National Research Initiative Program and Cornell University.

Our thanks to:
George M. Whitesides
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

April 1, 2009
Human World

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