Worldwide Acclaim for Research Conducted in Yogurt Pots

11 November 2008

Writers often say that they get their ideas from what they see around them, and it appears that world class science can also be inspired by everyday observations.

It was while relaxing on the shingle during his daughter’s birthday barbecue on Ynyslas beach that Dr John Warren of Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences got to wondering why the flowers in such an exposed site should have long stalks that could so easily be damaged by the wind, while related species on mountains for instance tend to flower in cushions.

This led to a research project which discovered that the waviness of the stalks is a factor in attracting pollinating insects: too wavy and the pollinators don’t stay long enough on the flowers, too stationary and the pollinators don’t visit at all.

The project, undertaken with no public funding, and much of it carried out by two local sixth formers on summer fellowships growing plants in old yogurt pots, would appear to be no more than a task done to satisfy Dr Warren’s curiosity. However, since being accepted for publication in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, it has attracted worldwide acclaim.

Not only have the results been cited in the Smithsonian Magazine and in local papers as far a field as St Helena, but the paper has also been selected by Faculty 1000 as being among the most important recent science to be published.

Faculty of 1000 Biology is an award-winning online service that highlights and evaluates the most interesting papers published in the biological sciences, based on the recommendations of over 2000 of the world's top researchers.

Dr Warren seems slightly bemused by the acclaim accorded to his project, but welcomes the fact that simple science can still inspire, and believes that it is this simplicity that has interested people. As he says: “This shows that we still have a lot to learn about the basics of how the world works.”

The flowers at Ynyslas certainly drew the attention of Dr Warren on a breezy summer afternoon, and his curiosity has placed the Institute at the forefront of Biological research.

The paper, Do flowers wave to attract pollinators? A case study with Silene maritime by Warren J and James P, Aberystwyth University features on the Faculty of 1000 Biology web site at http://www.f1000biology.com/guardpages/evaluation/1120678//article/article.asp%253Fid%253D1120678%2526view%253D%2526style%253D.