Seed to Seed: The Secret Life of Plants by Nicholas Harberd - review by Charles Elliott

Charles Elliott

Biological Beauty

Seed to Seed: The Secret Life of Plants


Bloomsbury 312pp £16.99

Be afraid. Be very afraid:

As if tied to a plumb-line by the sequential action of gravitational stimulus-sensing amyloplasts, an alteration in the reverse flow of auxin, a modulation of DELLA properties (perhaps... we’ll know this soon) and resultant orientations of growth...

When I first opened Seed to Seed it was this passage on page 263 that caught my eye and caused my heart to sink. Nevertheless, I repressed my dismay and went back to start the book from the beginning. I’m glad I did: given a certain amount of close attention and persistence, it will tell you more about plant physiology, about the linkage between submicroscopic life processes and the larger world around us, and – in extremely practical terms – about the way science really works than anything I’ve come upon before. It will also, incidentally, make perfectly clear what Nicholas Harberd was talking about when he wrote the sentence quoted in part above.

Harberd is a biologist who heads a team at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. His field is the mechanics of plant growth and – since this is the twenty-first century – that means trying to figure out how and why genes function as they do. Needless to say, it

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