Science Seminar Examines ‘Plant Stress’

Do plants experience stress? And if so, how does it affect them? Does it matter to us humans?

EMU chemistry professor Dr. Stephen Cessna will share his research in this field at the next Suter Science Seminar, when he’ll speak on the topic, “On the Suffering of Vegetables (And Why It Matters),” 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10, in room 104 of the Suter Science Center.

Dr. Stephen Cessna
Dr. Stephen Cessna

“Plants are continuously subject to numerous stresses, such as heat, drought, and the attacks of insects,” Cessna said. Plants sense these stresses, integrate incoming sensory data and respond with highly-regulated strategies that allow them to adapt. The plasticity of their response repertoire and the rate and degree to which they respond dictates their survival and persistence in the environment,” he noted.

Often, however, strategies to overcome one form of stress make plants more susceptible to other stresses.

Cessna will discuss his research on stress-activated biochemical signals in plants within the larger context of human nutrition, Blue Ridge and Rocky Mountain forest ecology and the biological and biblical functions of stress and suffering in nature.

Cessna received a BA in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder, then taught middle school math and science in Lesotho in southern Africa with the Mennonite Central Committee. He later completed a PhD degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at Purdue University.

He worked on a USDA-funded sabbatical research project during the 2007-08 academic year, studying plant responses to stress at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“Too often we take plants for granted – consume them, destroy them, tread on them – without due regard. Yet, we should be thankful that plants are part of God’s good gifts to humanity and are essential to all global life,” said Roman J. Miller, Suter Endowed Professor of Biology at EMU. “This seminar will increase our awareness of the important function that plants have in our lives,” Dr. Miller added.

Admission to the seminar is free. Refreshments will be served 15 minutes prior to the presentation.

For questions, contact Roman Miller at 540-432-4412 or