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Plant report reveals new discoveries, climate survivors

Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 02:08

The second annual ''State of the World's Plants'' report, involving 128 scientists, examines the winners and losers in the plant world under a changing climate. Matthew Stock reports.

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These are some of the 1700-plus new plant species discovered in the past year. But how plants cope with climate change, disease, and pests is examined in a new report by botanists. SOUNDBITE (English) PROF. KATHY WILLIS, DIRECTOR OF SCIENCE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW, SAYING: "Plants underpin all aspects of life on Earth from the air we breathe right through to our food our crops, our medicines. And one of the things we've been looking at is if you take one away what happens to the rest of that ecosystem; how does it impact." The report says damage to plant life from pests and pathogens could cost global agriculture $540 billion a year. Wildfires destroy almost 350 million hectares of plant life annually. And the felling of tropical trees for human habitat has put further strain on plant survival. SOUNDBITE (English) TIMOTHY UTTERIDGE, HEAD OF IDENTIFICATION AND NAMING, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW, SAYING: "We know about 20 percent of the planet's plants are under threat and we are describing new species from areas where forest is already disappeared. What we're now concerned about is what will be left." The report also looks at what it takes to be a winner in the plant world. Deeper roots, it says, can better withstand drought, while thicker leaves cope well with higher temperatures. Plants with a combination of such 'beneficial' traits could fare better in future. Ever-faster DNA sequencing is helping identify and classify plant species. And revealing other important properties, such as with the Madagascan Periwinkle. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. ILIA LEITCH, SENIOR RESEARCH LEADER AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW, SAYING: "Because it contains two very important chemicals that are widely used in cancer treatment, vinblastine and vincristine... And by having all the DNA sequence of its genome will enable scientists to work out the more complete understanding of the pathway that leads to the synthesis of these chemicals for enabling and enhancing future studies using these drugs." Eventually, DNA sequencing could help synthesize such plant chemicals for medicinal use. The report, released by the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) at Kew in London, involved research from 128 scientists in 12 countries.

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Plant report reveals new discoveries, climate survivors

Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 02:08