Got Questions? Plant Scientists Have the Answers

A guest post from Dr Chris Peters, Scientific Liaison, Sense about Science. The live Q & A on ‘What does Natural Actually Mean?’ will take place on 27th February from 1 – 2pm. 

What can we do to protect our soil? Is there a case for farming seaweed as a crop? Can certain farming methods create flood risks? Could a genetically modified approach help tackle ash dieback in the UK?

The plant science panel at Sense About Science has answered these and over 350 questions over the last 2 years The panel has grown from two scientists answering questions on genetic modification to more than 60 scientists from leading institutes, universities and learned societies across the UK covering the breadth of plant science research.

Questions are often about clarifying issues covered in the media, such as last month’s European Union vote on GM crops. In this way, the panel also helps the plant science community respond when news coverage is inaccurate. Other questions are simply driven by people’s curiosities. These often-imaginative questions – like whether plant cells would make a good addition to sunscreen because they absorb UV light – are a completely different challenge.

The panel also runs regular live online question and answer sessions on particular themes. These may be topics discussed in the media where the evidence is unclear – such as bees and insecticides. Or a Q&A might try and highlight areas people may not otherwise think about, like the importance of soil.

This month (on  the panel is turning its attention to claims about ‘natural’ food and farming. What does ‘natural’ actually mean? And is it a good thing all round? We all think we have some idea of what ‘natural’ is, whether it’s the green meadows we pass by on the train or the fresh and colourful vegetables we pick out in the market. But our countryside and the food we eat are the results of centuries of agriculture.

If you’ve got questions about whether the food you’re tucking into for lunch is really as natural as it claims to be – send them in ahead of the Q&A. Or if you’re a scientist working with plants and what to get involved answering public questions get in touch with Sense About Science.

How far away from ‘natural’ are we?