Image: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.
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Prof. on the box

Image: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.

After his phytophyllic antics were revealed to the world last year, serial seriously scientific stuntsman Iain Stewart – our original ‘Prof. in a box’ – has done it again. Not content to use contemporaneously generated botanical oxygen (‘bot-ox’?) to prove one can survive in a confined space supplied by plants alone, this time he’s using oxygen (patently palaeohistorical, putatively photosynthetically-produced) that’s 2.5 billion years old! Gimmicky? Yes, a bit. Does that matter? I don’t think so (certainly not in a negative way, anyway). Arguably, this is the sort of eye-catching party piece that might just fire the imagination of impressionable youngsters and turn them on to the power of plants and the crucial role they play in all our lives. The ‘academic breathes oxygen’ incident (which doesn’t sound nearly so impressive when reduced to its basics) is part of Stewart’s new 3-part TV series entitled, ‘How to grow a planet’, which ‘tells a stunning new story about our planet… how the greatest changes to the Earth have been driven, above all, by plants’. It sounds like a TV adaptation of David Beerling’s marvellous tome, The Emerald Planet ( so, it should be no surprise that Beerling is listed as Series Consultant). Anyway, first broadcast by the UK’s BBC on 7th February 2012, Episode 1 (‘Life from Light’) showed ‘how plants first harnessed light from the sun and created our life-giving atmosphere. He [Stewart] uncovers the epic battle between the dinosaurs and the tallest trees on the planet. And, using remarkable imagery, he shows plants breathing – and for the first time talking to each other…’. I can’t wait to see the full series – and its remarkable imagery (publication deadlines mean that I’m writing this in advance). If it lives up to its publicity (which I have to say has been remarkably low-key – I only found out about this from a chance conversation with a colleague near the water cooler… How on earth are we to get over the ‘plants really are quite important’ message if those who spend money making such programmes don’t spend a few more euro to promote them!?!)), it promises to be even better(!) than the BBC’s 2011 series, ‘Botany: A blooming history’. More – plant – power to the Beeb, and to Iain! [The ‘respiration incident’ – and others – is already available to view (and incorporate in botany teaching sessions?) on YouTube, e.g. – Ed.]


Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that international plant science journal for almost 10 years. As a freelance plant science communicator I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Plant Cuttings [] (and formerly at Botany One []). In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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