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HALL OF FAMEon 4 December 2006
Completing a research project and polishing off a journal paper left Nicholas Harberd at loose ends. While casting about for a new project, he struck out on a new course. It is good for us that he did. His quest led him to reflect on Nature's mysterious ways in terms that turned him away from his laboratory work to seek fresh insights. Many years of study of the thale-cress, a humble-looking but informative little plant, had provided much detailed information. Harberd, finding a thale-cress atop a grave in a church cemetery, began considering the plant in a fresh view. He developed a broader vision by studying it in Nature instead of his laboratory.

As the notes progress, Harberd describes the processes involved in the plant's growth and development. He explains how the leaves bud, then expand, each new leaf set 137 degrees away from its neighbour. The angle is a mystery, but many plants make rosettes of leaves, each with their own separation formula. The core of plant is the meristem, and there are two of these in each plant - one for roots and one for the shoot. There are genetic triggers launching the growth process. Harberd explains how these work and, as far as is known, how they interact. The plant, all plants apparently, start with a set of proteins, the DELLAs, that actually inhibit the growth process. He develops the scene with other genes and their proteins that "restrict restraint" allowing the plant to flourish - if the conditions are right.

This book is a reflection of his thoughts, dreams, research problems and other facets of his life and work. Harberd describes the conditions of each day of his note-taking, the weather, the other plants, the soil conditions. The notes are expressive of his reaction to the environment around him, the meanderings of his thoughts as they jump from the pressure of his work to the progress of the little thale-cress. There are setbacks, of course. A slug finds the cress. So does a rabbit, which nearly terminates his study. His reactions in each case are mixed - should he relocate the slug elsewhere? What to do about the rabbit? What happens if caretakers clean up the grave site? Underlying it all are the questions about the next project and what kind of contributions might his group now undertake? What new views of Nature and plant life might result from their work?

Non-scientists don't understand researchers or what they do, claiming scientists lack feeling, notes Harberd. Yet, "wonder is what drives us" says this scientist. The feeling of wonder at how things work is the basis of all research. Nature isn't driven by divine mandate, yet Harberd insists that all research results in a sense of awe. As the notes progress over the days and months, the words "wonder", "exciting" and even "breathtaking" appear with increasing frequency. He rediscovers that himself during an Autumn review of his jottings.

It's impossible not to be caught up in his enthusiasm as he depicts the experiments he and his team perform in developing new ideas or confirming older ones. One experiment, half a century old, proposed an idea for one plant type. Harberd and his group refined the test and tried it on the thale-cress. It confirmed the earlier findings and expanded on it. This kind of work demonstrates the uniformity of cellular processes across many plant species, from scrawny cress to towering redwood. "Wondrous", indeed! [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 10 May 2013
I found that this became a grind at times. Sometimes it became difficult to follow - more diagrams would have been useful - use a picture to paint a thousand words rather than the thousand words - especially when describing the actions of all the different DELLAs and mutants etc.
Despite that I did enjoy the science and the rationale behind the research, and also the relating of the research to the actual plant in the graveyard. However I did not enjoy all the diary aspects, I found his landscape descriptions flat and some of the inner voice fluffy, unexplored or preachy (in that I feel preached at).
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on 20 August 2009
Nice book etc, etc, but it is rather like reading a someones diary. I found I couldn't finish it, just too much about day to day activity unfortunately. If you like reading about the daily grind of an academic working on Arabidopsis may be you'll enjoy it.
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on 10 May 2011
This book is a fascinating combination of explanatory science book and a personal diary, giving an insight into how scientists think and reflect and move forward. At points it is a bit technical - but you are not going to be examined on it so just get the gist and move forward.

As I plant out my cosmos seedlings I look at them with new eyes and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys gardening and would like to understand more.

I see on the internet that the author is now at St John's College, Oxford.
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on 1 April 2010
This book is an inspiring mixture of a gentle nature diary and an introduction to the molecular biology of the Thale Cress plant [Arabidopsis]. This rather unassuming little plant has become the 'tool' of those trying to understand plant growth and its regulation. This is written for the layman by a very distinguished scientist. It should also be required reading for all young plant scientists, as he illustrates so well the joys and frustrations of actually doing the science.
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on 22 May 2014
Intelligently written in diary form, Harberd delivers a fascinating insight into the plant kingdom, revealing as much about the life and wonder of the scientist as he does about botanical science. Anyone who cares at all about the natural world should read Seed to Seed. Harberd's passion runs deep; he conveys knowledge with skill and a light touch bringing the reader a real and therefore valuable understanding of plants and, not least, the efficacy of life on this planet.
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on 25 December 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Prof. Harberd's exciting narrative about his work and life in the lab. The book was highly invigorating and hope that he writes a sequel.
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on 7 June 2015
Really enjoyed
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