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Plants, people and ultraviolet light: from ozone depletion to better nutrition

Dr Nigel Paul, Lancaster Environment Centre

Tuesday 15 December 2009, 0915-0940
Lecture Theatre 1, Management School Building

Stratospheric ozone depletion has been one of the major environmental problems of the past three decades. Through the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, stratospheric ozone depletion also represents the greatest success for global action in response to a global environmental problem. That success is founded on high quality science, both in relation to the causes of ozone depletion and its effects, which are mediated by increased ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B: 290-315nm) reaching the biosphere.

Increased UV-B affects many organisms and biological processes, from human skin cancer, through changes in plant growth to biogeochemical cycling. Prior to the 1980s UV-B was barely recognised as a having any effect on plants, and subsequent research initially used unrealistic treatments leading to substantial misconceptions over the potential effects of ozone depletion.

My work at Lancaster has concentrated on UV-B treatments based on realistic ozone depletion scenarios and under conditions as close as possible to the field.

I will describe how such experiments reveal a range of significant effects on plant growth, morphology and chemistry, understanding that has contributed to the balanced assessment of the impacts of stratospheric ozone on crops and natural ecosystems.

I will also describe how, by focussing on environmentally-relevant conditions, our ozone-related research has placed Lancaster in a unique position to explore the application of UV responses and how, working with growers and manufacturers, we have shown that UV-B responses, far from being damaging, are often highly desirable in horticulture, with benefits for growers and consumers.