Friday video: not on the Ark – (intelligent* and interesting) plants

By Grant Jacobs 15/10/2010

Stefano Mancuso’s TED lecture, shown below, opens with him pointing out what he considers to be the biggest error in the story of Noah’s ark – there were no plants.** I immediately thought: ’nor fungi’, then ’nor bacteria’ (which is a bit unfair as the writers of that day couldn’t see them). I then thought of viruses, but started getting side-tracked as to if there was a positive value in keeping viruses. (An idle mind, and all that…) Allegorical stories don’t necessarily have to be accurate, with their main point being the moral (or other) message they wish to convey, but it’s still a striking omission.

He tsk-tsks David Attenborough, too.

Some time ago Alison wrote wondering why students seemed to dislike studying plants, which attracted a few comments over at her blog. A general theme was that perhaps plants were perceived as uninteresting. This discussion was the reason I’ve picked this lecture for you this Friday.

Mancuso playfully hinges his talk on the word ‘intelligent’, but it is the collection of interesting things plants do will that will appeal to most people. (I personally wish he’d spent more time doing that, actually.***)

He also introduces Charles Darwin’s book The Power of Movement in Plants. (Be honest: did you know he’d written that?) The quote he picks from this is intriguing.

Check his presentation out for yourself, there are some pretty lively plants in there.

If you can’t get enough of Venus fly traps, there is David Attenborough’s popular (close to 1 million views) presentation of it, complete with annoying advertisement at the start. Also worth checking out is a BBC documentary on the challenges of filming plants for this series, including on scene that took, literally, years to make.


* I write ‘intelligent’ somewhat tongue-in-cheek, of course.

** I’m not a historian, but it occurs to me that perhaps people of the time the bible stories were written didn’t consider plants to be living, or at least living in the same was as animals were considered to be?

*** I personally think there are other examples that show the liveliness of plants that might have been added. Some parts of plant defence systems and details of their day-night cycles come to mind.

Other articles on Code for life:

Aww, crap. (Pitcher plants feature in this.)

Thoughts towards a human brain neural connection map

Science in the House? (Folate supplementation)

Finding platypus venom

Preserving endangered species – of gut microbes

Find transcription factor motifs in genomes better: add histone acetylation data

0 Responses to “Friday video: not on the Ark – (intelligent* and interesting) plants”

  • I do not think your footnotes work for blogging. Sometimes I get to the footnotes and think “Hmm, that is an interesting comment – I wonder what it pertains to” and then have to scroll backwards and forwards though the blog trying to spot the appropriate number of asterisks. I think it’d be better to include almost all your footnotes in brackets in the text where they occur. The only exception would be if you had a paragraph or two of extra information which you don’t feel should be included in the main body of text (ie a very large aside).


  • Brent,

    Yes and no.

    This has strong parallels to the issue that the problem with links “interrupting” the text is not a writing issue but a web design one (see my earlier post on this). My own (putative!) e-book format had “live” footnotes to address this, which meant that they weren’t footnotes!

    From a writing point of view putting bracketed asides into the middle of paragraphs can break the flow of thoughts being presented to the point that it puts the reader off. The effect would be to have the reader’s thoughts chopping and changing, interrupting the line of thought of the paragraph, rather than a paragraph reading as expanding on a single point. I tend to put aside those that run over-and-above what the text is saying.

    Point is, you lose either way you tackle this because present-day blogs aren’t doing what can be done to avoid the problem. On printed paper, footnotes are less of an issue, because you don’t have to scroll away from the text you are reading. An exception in print might be endnotes referring to an item located in end-matter, which I find can be irritating — I understand the thinking, but in (most) cases I prefer footnotes.

    It is possible for me to place links from the footnotes back to the mark referring to the footnote, but it’s fiddly to code and I doubt enough people would benefit to justify the effort.

    [Updated to add link.]

  • Brent,

    Quick thought – rather than visually scan the page, you can search the page using ‘Find’. I prefer to think of my footnotes as ‘Easter eggs’ 😉 If people find them and like the aside, good for them. I’m not quite so worried if they fit back to the text most of the time.