Fall and Fallow


Plants in Research

Almost everyone, everywhere knows about plants, because plants are so universal, and because they are so rooted in our history. Centuries ago, plants were used for food, clothing, medicine, fuel, and shelter. Today, many millenniums later, they are still meeting those needs. However, the world population is now approximately eight billion, and this is straining all the earth’s resources, due to the increase in demand for all the components that support our existence,


Farmers are being called upon to meet the increased demand for food production. As a result, no longer is nature allowed to take its course in agricultural production, where an attack from pests, diseases, or weeds could determine whether a bumper crop was harvested or not. Instead through a combination of ongoing research and technological advances, scientists have developed genetically modified plants, which are resistant to attacks from these sources, make more food available for consumption, and create a greater level of food security.


The use of plants for medicine is also another heavily researched field, due to increased demand for more reliable and effective drugs. Modern medicine evolved in part because of research by the pharmaceutical industry on medicinal plants, identified by locals as having healing properties. Researchers worked to identify the active component, then extracted, separated, and processed the material. After conducting clinical trials, and meeting standards set by regulatory bodies, the manufactured drug is ready to be marketed. The product is sold commercially by the drug companies, and eventually reaches the consumer. Before this rigorous research and development process was instituted, early medical practitioners relied on the verbal knowledge that was available to them at that time, or documented knowledge in the Doctrine of Signatures. The information contained in the Doctrine of Signatures was very advanced for its time, but it was not based on scientific evidence. Two millennium later we look back from the vantage point of centuries of scientific research, and we can appreciate the difference in reliability between the anecdotal and observational evidence on which early practitioners based their cures, versus the scientific knowledge that is now available and utilized before modern medicine is prescribed by doctors.



Early civilizations relied on burning coal for heat and for cooking. Then with the technological advancements that came with the Industrial Revolution, scientists discovered ways to convert oil, coal, and natural “fossil” gas into energy, to drive industrial activity. This was a major innovation in its time because it brought modernization, and it also allowed consumers access to affordable electricity and heat. However, as time marched on, further research showed that the burning of oil, coal, and natural “fossil” gas, also known as fossil fuels, produced greenhouse gases, hydrocarbon, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide (SO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). It is now well documented that these gases are contributing to climate change. For example, acid rain is caused when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with water, oxygen, and other chemicals in the atmosphere. The development of, “clean fuels,” is designed to be the alternative to burning “dirty” fossil fuels. The hope is that countries will eventually convert their infrastructure so that they can use 100% renewable, sustainable, clean energy. Biofuel falls in the category of clean fuels and comprises an important area of research where plant biomass is broken down and processed into fuel, such as ethanol and biodiesel. These fuels are environmentally friendly, and do not pollute the air when they are burned.




Enquiring minds are pushing the boundaries even more. They are setting out to conquer new territories in outer space, to learn about whether there is life on other planets, or how to establish life on other planets. Chances are that they will succeed someday. I look forward to the day when travelers from the Blue Planet will be able to take a one-day excursion to “oogle hort,” basically gaze in amazement and wonder at the beauty of plants and flowers grown on Planet Blue, then travel at warp speed, and “oogle hort,” on Planet X. Plant life will have different conditions to which they must adapt. But, given their resiliency and the right conditions they will adjust and thrive. Successfully growing plants in outer space will move the needle forward in colonizing Space the Final Frontier.