© 2015 Cardiff Scientific Society

Abstract


(This lecture was first delivered as the 2009 RI Christmas Lecture)


Plants might seem passive, defenceless and almost helpless. But they are most definitely not! Thanks to a war with the animals that try to eat them that has lasted over 300 million years, they've developed many terrifying and devious ways to bite back! Plant weaponry includes a bewildering variety of poisonous chemicals, as well as physical barriers such as spines and stinging hairs. Some of these weapons are useful to us – many of our most important medicines were originally discovered in plants – but others can do us serious harm.  Thanks to their ingenious defences, plants have seen off everything from dinosaurs to tiny insects.

In this lecture you’ll find out what it really means to be green! You will also get a chance to uncover the complex secret language of plants: are talking trees science fiction or reality? How can something deaf, blind and rooted to the spot communicate? You can find out how this epic 300-million year war between plants and animals has shaped us and the world we live in. How good are we at eating plants and overcoming their defences? Are humans natural herbivores? How can we improve plant defences to protect our crops? Will climate change upset the balance in the arms race between plants and their herbivores and make our crops more vulnerable in future?

In this lecture you’ll see plants as you've never seen them before. They are complicated, cunning and a lot cleverer than most of us ever imagine!

The 300 Million Years War: How Plants Use Their Weapons to See Off Everything from Dinosaurs to Caterpillars


Professor Susan Hartley BA DPhil

School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex

17 th November 2010

Large Chemistry Lecture Theatre, Cardiff University