I have recently been reading Nicholas Harberd’s excellent book Seed to Seed: The Secret Life of Plants, and it made a considerable impression on me:
Forget any notion that botany is boring – if you have any interest in what the day-to-day life of a research scientist is really like, this is the most accurate and most engaging account of “doing science for a living” that I have ever read. Although very accessible and written for non-scientists, there’s plenty of plant science in there (if that’s your thing). As the author recounts of the tale of life in his lab, explaining the molecular biology of plant growth along the way, we arrive at another critical issue for modern biology – reductionism. What use is all this detailed knowledge? Should we invest more and more in finding out about less and less? Harberd is able to answer the criticism in his case by showing that the knowledge gleaned from Arabidopsis is applicable in many if not most circumstances, including all of the crop plants we rely on for food. The focus of this book is a researcher’s struggle to know what questions to ask, not on the answers.
And yet, with all that we have gained from the adoption of Arabidopsis as “the chosen one”, I can’t help asking myself what we have also lost by investing so heavily in one species – diversity?