130th Life Science GPES Seminar

Growth Anisotropy in Plants: Scaling Up from Single Cell to Stem.

Dr. Tobias I. Baskin

University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Endless forms, most beautiful” – Charles Darwin

During the 130th Life Science Seminar, Dr. Baskin opined that ‘beautiful’ could be replaced by ‘functional’ – the myriad structures found in the plant kingdom are all results of millennia of fine-tuning so as to meet various requirements in functionality. A leaf is flat in order to absorb as much light as it can. A tendril extends almost two-dimensionally (i.e. a line) to grasp at supports. His research objectives are to understand why plants grow not isotropically, but anisotropically and the mechanisms by which plant cells allow this growth. In this manner, he uses a combination of biology and engineering in order to come up with theories about how plant cells deal with stress and strain. It was extremely enlightening; especially so with the question and answer session at the end, where students shot queries at him about both his research and his choice of career path which were answered openly and eloquently by Dr. Baskin.

Understanding plant biomechanics is all well and good, but throughout the talk I wondered about what the purpose of his research was. The answer? There isn’t one. His research can be said to be ‘basic research’. Instead of research that has a purpose such as understanding the mechanism of carbon uptake by the ocean in order to mitigate climate change, Dr. Baskin does investigative research into plant growth for the pure love and curiosity of it. Pure research furthers human knowledge without specific applications in mind but may one day be used as a foundation for progress. Applied research is useful, but without pure research contributing to the pool of knowledge, many new innovations (e.g. the discovery of X-rays for medical use) would not have existed.

The second part of the talk was actually given by one of our very own, Kim Schumacher. He used this opportunity to introduce GPES to other Todai students, staff and the guest speaker, giving them an insight into the programme and our student-led initiatives (thanks Kim!!). It is astounding how many people on our campus are clueless about the existence of this new programme and we hope that more students will be inspired to join such a pioneering venture by us actual students promoting our own programme. This was also an interactive session as we asked for advice and opinions from Dr. Baskin on how we can better create a more multi-disciplinary programme.

All in all, a really fruitful session. Thanks to Hamada-sensei for organising the seminar and Dr. Baskin for a fascinating talk.

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From left to right: Xuan Truong, Kim, Dr. Baskin, Yue Chin, Amelia

(Pictures ©2014 GPES Student Group)

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