From the food on our tables to the fuel in our cars, crude oil seeps invisibly into almost every part of our modern lives. Yet many of us have little idea of the incredible journey it has made to reach our petrol tanks and plastic bags from its origins millions of years ago.
2007 • Nature
What makes plants grow is a simple enough question, but the answer turns out to be one of the most complicated and fascinating stories in science and took over 300 years to unravel. Timothy Walker, director of the Oxford University Botanic Garden, reveals how the breakthroughs of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, Chelsea gardener Phillip Miller and English naturalist John Ray created the science of botany. Between them these quirky, temperamental characters unlocked the mysteries of the plant kingdom and they began to glimpse a world where bigger, better and stronger plants could be created. Nurseryman Thomas Fairchild created the world's first artificial hybrid flower - an entirely new plant that didn't exist in nature. Today, botanists continue the search for new flowers, better crops and improved medicines to treat life-threatening diseases.
Fortey travels to the rainforests of Madagascar - an ancient island that has spawned some of the most extraordinary groups of plants and animals anywhere in the world. From beautiful Indri lemurs, toxic frogs, and the cat-like giant mongoose called the fossa, to evolutionary oddities like the giraffe-necked weevil and the otherworldly aye-aye, he uncovers the secrets of the evolutionary niche - examining how, given millions of years, animals and plants can adapt to fill almost any opportunity they find.
Huge changes have swept across Arabia since the discovery of oil and the Arab relationship with nature has changed too. This is summed up by the changes to camel racing, now an ultra hi-tech sport. Arabia's animals now live alongside a very modern society but Arabia's people are using technology to protect nature: dugongs are fitted with satellite transmitters; hunting falcons chase down radio-controlled planes and the world's first carbon-neutral city is being built in the very heart of oil country.