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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
material.world@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 10 July
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 10 July  2003
A wheat field - Fungal plant pathogens have to be controlled to make sure crop yield is not affected

Fungal Plant Pathogens

Many fungi are parasitic organisms, which means they depend on other living organisms for the food and protection they need to grow and reproduce. They produce thousands of tiny spores that distribute the fungus by infecting new plants. These spores can recognise not only particular plant species, but also specific parts of the plant, where they can enter with least risk of triggering the plant's defence mechanisms.

Powdery mildew infects cereals, and its spores react to physical contact with the plant's surface within just 1 minute of landing on it. They recognise and respond to plant surface features such as the water-repellent leaf waxes and molecules released by fungal enzymes that digest the outer layer of the plant surface.

Quentin speaks to Dr Tim Carver from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) in Aberystwyth who has been experimenting on Powdery Mildew and trying to find out how to induce durable resistance in the cereals it infects and to Professor John Lucas from Rothamsted Research who is also an expert on plant pathogen interactions and knows all about the touchy feely fungi that use sensory recognition to invade their hosts.

PETM

10 million years after the dinosaurs were wiped out by a massive meteor impact, the Earth underwent another dramatic change. It emitted a spectacular burp, releasing millions of tons of methane gas into the atmosphere. The result was a global warming incident that has yet to be matched. In this weeks programme we find out what effects the belch had on our atmosphere and whether the incident could have implications for modern day climate change.

Global warming is not a new phenomenon. 55 millions years ago the temperatures on earth soared a period known as the Palaeocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The temperature increases were prompted by the release of millions of tonnes of methane, until then locked up in icy deposits on the sea floor. What triggered this massive release remains a mystery. It may have been massive undersea landslides, a change in the ocean temperature or even a meteorite impact. But no matter what caused the event, the result remains clear: a temperature increase of over 8 degrees centigrade that did not return to normal for a quarter of a million years. The event may have even encouraged primitive mammals to disperse across the world and diversify into three important groups still with us today: the Artiodactyla, the Perissodactyla and the Primates.

Researchers are now studying this event to shed light on the long term consequences of global warming. Can the planet really recover from such events and could it ever happen again? Quentin speaks to Richard Corfield who is Research Associate in the Dept. of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford and to Bob Spicer, Professor of Earth Sciences at the Open University.
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