Jan Ingenhousz: The Man Who Discovered How Plants Keep Us Alive & How They May Save Us

Jan Ingenhousz: The Man Who Discovered How Plants Keep Us Alive & How They May Save Us

Jan Ingenhousz: The man who discovered the secret life source of plants and saved hundreds of lives Google Doodle Celebrates the Life of Jan Ingenhousz, the Father of Photosynthesis 

Jan Ingenhousz: The Man Who Discovered How Plants Keep Us Alive & How They May Save Us

Via the Independent

Among a variety of other discoveries, Ingenhousz recognised that plants did something special: he noticed that leaves produced oxygen when they were in sunlight, and carbon dioxide when they were in darkness. Today we know that as photosynthesis, and it is one of the most fundamental, profound processes that power life on Earth.

His work was long before humanity became endangered as a result of climate change. It came long before the processes he recognized were even fully understood, or were named photosynthesis.

But his discoveries helped bring about an understanding that could bring the two together. His initial work was part of a human fascination with the way that plants keep us alive – and how they might save us in the future

Why today's Google Doodle is so important

As humans burn more and more fossil fuels to live, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Plants, however, do the opposite and draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to keep them alive. One might save us from the other.

A study published last year found that more and more plants seemed to be spreading across the Earth as climate change raised temperatures. Places that previously were too cold to support greenery have warmed up – and as a consequence plants have grown where they wouldn't have been able to before.

Those new plants, could be helping address the very reasons that they got there in the first place. More plants means more photosynthesis – which in turn means that despite increased carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, less of it is sticking around.

That was the findings of a study published in Nature last year. It found that the increased number of plants and photosynthesis activity seemed to be helping slow the increase in temperatures around the world.

The process is only going to be temporary, the authors warned at that time. Other effects of climate change, like drought and flooding, pose an existential threat to those new plants, and while plants benefit from increased carbon dioxide in the short term, once there gets to be too much it will become a problem.

Some claim, however, that we can help encourage different kinds of photosynthesis to overcome those problems. Plants have clearly got something that helps the Earth deal with climate change – it might just be a matter of helping them make the most of it.

Last year, scientists suggested that it might be possible to supercharge the way that plants generate energy through photosynthesis. Two studies published last year showed that plants could be encouraged to take in more energy, which helps them grow bigger and generate more food but also encourages more of the helpful exchanges that go on during photosynthesis.

All of that work is an early stage at the moment, and activists are careful to caution that plants can't save us from the damage we're doing to the planet. But they could help slow the effects, as well as helping deal with the problem of food shortage and growing populations that are coming at the same time.

 

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