Science & Technology

Thinking like a plant: how plants decide what to do

Professor Ottoline Leyser
8th May 2019, 7:15pm

It's easy to imagine that plants don’t do much because of our powerful prejudice that equates action with movement. But plants literally build themselves out of thin air and water, which is pretty extraordinary.

They collect carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil, which requires large surface areas above and below ground, and this means that they can't move. Because they can’t move, they have to adapt to the environmental conditions around them, assessing light quality, nutrient availability, windiness, etc. and adjusting their growth and development accordingly. Also because the plants can’t move, they have to be able to deal with predation which means having no unique parts, and therefore no central processing of information equivalent to an animal’s brain. Instead they have to use distributed decisions making processes. Professor Leyser's research is about how plants make developmental decisions without the benefit of a brain.


About the speaker

Ottoline Leyser is Professor of Plant Development and Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on the mechanisms underlying developmental plasticity in plants, using the hormonal control of shoot branching in Arabidopsis as a model system. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society and chairs its Science Policy Advisory Group. She is a Member of the Leopoldina and EMBO, and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. In 2017 she was made DBE for services to plant science, science in society and equality and diversity in science.