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Botanists drop Latin to save plants

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - 02:54

Dec. 27 - Starting January 1st, 2012, botanists will no longer be required to write scientific descriptions for plants in Latin. As one of two major changes implemented by the recent International Botanical Congress, researchers believe it could save some endangered plant species by simplifying and speeding up the process. Tara Cleary reports.

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Dr. Jim Miller at New York's Botanical Garden has scientifically described scores of plant species. And every one of those explanations had to be written in lengthy, laborious, Latin. But come January 1st, 2012, those days will be over ... and for the first time in hundreds of year botanical descriptions may be written in English. Genus and species names will retain their Latin origins, but the International Botanical Congress has voted to do away with compulsory, detailed Latin descriptions they've always followed. Once the accepted language of scientific research, Miller believes Latin has become an almost universally inaccessible language. And he says the intent for the Congress' decision is clear; to simplify the naming and describing of plant species. SOUNDBITE: JIM MILLER, DEAN AND VICE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE, NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING (English): "All of this stuff underlies a desire to facilitate and simplify naming, describing and cataloging the world's plants. We probably have 15 to 20% of the plants that exist on this planet left to describe and name. Fifty, maybe 100,000 species still have not been described. And we're racing against the clock to get them described before the forests they're in are cleared and they're extirpated." Miller says that he is convinced that many plant species have become extinct before the process of publishing descriptions had been completed. And without a description, existing endangered plants cannot be protected. SOUNDBITE: JIM MILLER, DEAN AND VICE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE, NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING (English): "We know of lots of instances in which plants have been described and they're either teetering on the brink of extinction or they ... or we can no longer document that they exist." With about 50 to 100,000 plant species yet to be named and described, Miller says the changes will make the process more efficient, as will another new rule allowing the publication of new descriptions online, rather than only in print. SOUNDBITE: JIM MILLER, DEAN AND VICE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE, NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING (English): "We as a community really are struggling to describe the organisms that are out there, in a way that satisfactorily lets us communicate about them, think about which ones are conservation concern in the future - if we don't have a list of the world species, we don't know which ones are endangered." According to Miller, undiscovered plant species could hold the key in future breakthroughs in medical treatment. But if descriptions never see the light of day, those species could well disappear before scientists find out they ever existed. Tara Cleary, Reuters.

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Botanists drop Latin to save plants

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - 02:54