There’s been a couple of posts on Research Blogging that have caught my eye in the past couple of days. Both of them are interesting because they show how important studying interaction is to understand the natural world.
Lab Rat comments on a paper on Trees that farm bacteria. She also points out the connections trees make with fungi. The key feature of these partnerships is that they are interactions between two or more parties, not bacteria adapting to a passive environment.
Plants are even less passive in the paper reported on at Phased, who has the “Man Bites Dog” story of the plant world. This indicates that plants aren’t merely farming bacteria for nutrients, but also for lunch. Tomatoes have been shown to draw in microbes through the roots and tagging with Nitrogen-15 shows bits of them end up in the leaves.
Both papers show how interdisciplinary approaches can be important. I know some people who are very keen on the idea of interdisciplinarity, but see it as something at happens at the boundaries of a subject. In both cases here these papers study problems that make no sense without genuine interdisciplinary, as opposed to multidisciplinary work.
I think that’s part of the attraction of Botany. As well as being a field at the cutting edge of Biology, it’s also intrinsically connected to other fields of study because plants are the basis of so much activity on the planet. I think Microbiology has the same kind of pervasiveness, but Botany makes nicer photos.