May 22 is the annual International Day for Biological Diversity, which seeks to maintain and improve the diversity of plant, animal, and microorganism species across our planet through the protection and maintenance of their native ecosystems. Given the human dependence on biodiversity to sustain us, particularly in our food supply, this is an important issue to raise awareness for and to enact policies and mechanisms to provide food security and prevent famine and disease. With plants being the backbone of nearly every ecosystem and food chain on Earth, many scientists are considering plant biology to address these major global issues, especially as biodiversity continues to be threatened by global climate change and other human interventions.
Using Plant Biology to Address Global Human Issues
Start Composting in the New Year!
Most of the United States is feeling the cold of winter at the moment, but it's never too early to start planning your compost setup. As you all may guess, I'm a big proponent of sustainable living, even in the laboratory, and the habits we develop could also lead to a healthier yard and surrounding natural landscape. As a teacher in Chicago, I developed an engineering project with my students to turn a part of our school courtyard into a vegetable garden, and we incorporated composting into it. It was a very cost-effective project as the students would bring in their unused vegetable scraps, recycled papers, and egg shells to school and develop their own compost mixes from which we would derive fertilizing materials for corn and squash. We ended up growing quite a bit of corn and not much else, but I anticipate that was because of the suboptimal lighting due to our building blocking the bulk of the sun's rays most of the day. But imagine what you could do with a little planning and a bit more budget than a public school (but that's a story for another day)!
Plant Power: Plant Chemicals and Proteins for Human Health
When I was growing up in Hong Kong, and even after I came to the United States, my parents and grandparents would periodically give me ginseng beverages and soups, which was not always pleasant due to the bitter taste. As a result, I don’t think I really appreciated the benefits of ginseng, both scientifically confirmed and perceived. It is fun and informative to read about the myriad studies of natural plant extracts and how they can improve our well-being. Many folks like to drink herbal teas or use plant-derived supplements such as aloe vera lotions, so maybe this is good incentive to grow more of these beneficial plants such that they can provide health products as well as some clean oxygen for us to breathe!