Media Release

Newsroom Releases 2013 May In pursuit of succulence

22/05/2013
In pursuit of succulence
All things succulent will be in focus when JCU’s Professor Joseph Holtum presents In pursuit of succulence: a botanical odyssey in Townsville tomorrow.

All things succulent will be in focus when James Cook University’s Professor Joseph Holtum presents In pursuit of succulence: a botanical odyssey in Townsville tomorrow.

The Professorial Inaugural Lecture will be hosted by JCU’s School of Marine and Tropical Biology.

Professor Holtum said people often thought all plants took up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis during the light. However, this was incorrect, he said.

“Not all plants photosynthesise during the light, some plants break the rules,” he said.

“In biology there are always exceptions to the rule, for example all birds fly … but then there are emus and kiwis. Or dinosaurs are extinct – but birds are dinosaurs.”

Professor Holtum said plants with CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) photosynthesis, those with succulent cells, performed the second most common form of photosynthesis on the planet, absorbing carbon dioxide at night.

“My talk will describe my career-long research into the ecophysiology of the nocturnal contrarians of the plant world,” he said.

“Nocturnal contrarians are those plants that, contrary to all the other plants, take up CO2 when it’s dark.

“I will highlight the succulent connection between desert plants such as prickly pear, Australian rainforest orchids and ant-plants, tequila and biofuels, and Jefferson Airplane’s classic 1967 single, Plastic-fantastic lover.”

The talk will cover:

  • Which plants take up CO2 in the dark

  • Why the term ‘plastic-fantastic’ has been bestowed upon them

  • How the extreme plasticity of their metabolism allows them to adapt well to life subject to periodic drought and wetness

  • How this exotic metabolic pathway may have use in producing biofuels for the Australian tropics.

Issued May 22, 2013

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