Seed World

Duke Pauli Says it’s Possible to Talk to Plants

Duke Pauli

Can we talk to plants? Duke Pauli, incoming chair of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (PBCC), says yes.

“Plants are like animals in that they can’t get up and move away from hot or cold or walk to food. The idea is, what would happen if we could talk to plants? Imagine asking a plant what it needs, and it comes back and tells you it’s a little low on nitrogen, so you give it more. And, hey, if you could give it some more water, that would be great,” says Pauli, incoming chair of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee.

Pauli sat down with Seed World at the recent meeting of the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) to talk about his work and what the PBCC has on its agenda. The PBCC facilitates ongoing discussion on the needs of the plant breeding community and in particular, what public sector breeders and breeding students can do to meet the challenges of the future.

“Today, most crop management tends to be on the reactive side. We see a problem, and we seek to address it. If we can communicate with plants, we kind of shift the paradigm to being more proactive,” he says.

Pauli, a professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona, is part of a team of researchers that has received a $25 million grant to develop a better way to communicate with plants and understand their signals.

As futuristic as it may sound, the project essentially draws on the principles laid out by G. H. Shull back in 1908 — harnessing the power of genetics to create better plant varieties and fuel the seed industry, bringing the past, present and future of plant breeding full circle.