Whitebark pine in Oregon. Wikipedia
Whitebark pine in Oregon. Wikipedia

Pines and Viroids: On The Deep Past And Imminent Future of Life

Recently I’ve been writing a fair amount about plants–what they can tell us about the deep history of life, as well as what life will be like for them in the near future.

Tomatoes, dahlias, and many other cultivated plants can fall victim to a strange infection. The pathogen is not a fungus or a bacterium or even a virus. Instead, it’s a naked snippet of genes known as a viroid. A team of scientists is convinced that viroids are relics of the earliest stages of life on Earth, a form of life that evolved before the dawn of DNA. For the rest of the story, see my column in the New York Timesmy column in the New York Times.

Viroids will still be a fact of life for plants in the next century–but so will a rapid shift in the climate. What will happen to plants when the temperature in their current range changes? Will they be able to colonize places further from the equator where they can still thrive? Or will they be unable to get there fast enough? In another piece for the New York Times, I investigate the question by looking at one plant in particular, the magnificent whitebark pine. Check it out.