Prof. Ariel Novoplansky, a plant biologist from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was the featured speaker at a meeting sponsored by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University, (AABGU), a member of AABGU’s Mid-Atlantic Region. The meeting took place at Morris Arboretum, the University of Pennsylvania’s interdisciplinary resource center, which is also recognized as the official arboretum of the commonwealth.
Novoplansky, who was in the United States for meetings with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also spoke at a lunch-and-learn program sponsored by AABGU.
For 23 years, Novoplansky has been a member of Ben-Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research and its Marco and Louise Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology. He is well-known both from his many academic publications and his frequent appearances at international conferences. He is also a widely published writer in the mainstream press, including The New York Times, and a speaker for the online TEDTalks series.
The subject of plant communication has been studied for years. Through a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, Novoplansky and his team discovered that such communication is possible via the plant root system. In their study, they established that unstressed plants were able to receive and pass on information through their roots from nearby drought-exposed plants. The unstressed plants responded to this information by closing up their orifices, known as stomata, in preparation for possible exposure to future stress.
“The results [of this research] demonstrate the ability of plants and other ‘simple’ organisms to learn, remember and respond to environmental challenges in ways so far known only in complex creatures with a central nervous system,” says Novoplansky in an article in Haaretz. The potential global impact of this discovery could be the ability to enhance food production, especially in parts of the world in substandard conditions. Novoplansky explains his groundbreaking research in the video below from TEDx Jaffa, an independently organized TEDTalk event in Jaffa.
During his presentation at Morris Arboretum, Novoplansky spoke before a select group. This group included, from the arboretum staff, Paul W. Meyer, executive director; Dr. Timothy A. Block, director of botany; Dr. Cynthia Skema, botanical scientist; and Mira Zergani, director of development. The group also included Moses Feldman, vice-chair of the arboretum’s advisory board and major supporter of The Jacob Blaustein Institutes, as well as Susannah C. McQuillan, executive director of The Moses Feldman Family Foundation, which made this meeting possible.
Article and photos: Claire Winick, regional director, AABGU Mid-Atlantic Region