ToledoMe: Plant Research at the Toledo Zoo

Published: Jan. 14, 2019 at 10:44 AM EST
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Caring for, and conserving, animal populations are priorities for the Toledo Zoo. But what about their food, namely, plants? Workers at the zoo have a conservation effort in place to help keep endangered plants alive and well, and they're doing it by actually producing the plants here.

Dr. Ryan Walsh, Conservation Coordinator with the zoo, explains, "Plants are probably the most important species worldwide, because all of our food webs start with plants, and even a lot more plants than animals are going extinct on a daily or monthly basis."

Dr. Walsh is fighting to keep those threatened plants alive by generating them in a lab at the zoo. It all starts with a bundle of cells and a hormone mixture.

"I can then cut up that mass of cells into however many pieces I want, and then use a different hormone and go one to produce a mature plant," explains Dr. Walsh. Actually growing the plants, though, is a tricky process.

“Everything has to be done in a completely sterile environment. This nutrient auger has so many nutrients, and it has sugar in it also. If I were to open the lid and expose it to the air, all of the fungal spores and bacterial spores ... would grow much faster than the plants and would out-compete the plants."

Once the plants are mature, Dr. Walsh says that they'll be placed in exhibits within the Museum of Science with animals native to the same regions. And some will eventually be reintroduced to the wild. Visitors will be able to see all of the behind-the-scenes work when the museum opens this spring!