Perspectives Online

Davies awarded honorary doctorate from French university

Dr. Eric Davies (right) is pictured at the Universite Blaise Pascal with UBP Prof. Alain Vian (left), who nominated Davies for the honorary doctorate, and retired UBP Prof. Maryse Torte.
Photo courtesy Eric Davies

On June 4, Dr. Eric Davies was named Docteur honoris causa (Doctor of Honor with Cause) by the Universite Blaise Pascal (UBP) during award ceremonies at Clermont- Ferrand in central France. Davies is retired head of the Department of Plant Biology (formerly Botany) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Davies was honored for his scientific accomplishments in collaboration with the French university, which is named for France’s most famous physicist.

Davies, world renowned as one of the premier specialists in the response of plants to environmental stress, humorously describes himself as a “Phytotraumatologist.” Studying how the development and morphology of plants is affected by the injuries they sustain, he has shown that response to injury is quick (within minutes) and systematic throughout the plant. This implies that the traumatic information is rapidly transmitted by a complex system: The transmission is in part molecular but also biophysical (waves of hydraulic pressure and depolarization of the membranes).

Davies has always kept close relationships with his international colleagues, especially in Japan and Poland. It is however in France that the strongest relationships were developed, in particular with the laboratories managed by Professor Michel Thellier in Rouen and with Marie-Odile Desbiez, director of CNRS research in Clermont Ferrand. He has visited UBP on a regular basis and hosted interns and post-doctoral students from the university.

He has participated in numerous conferences and published more than 130 publications in influential journals. He was a member of several committees responsible for editing international publications and supervised an important study at NASA, which is still being pursued today.

Describing that study of “programmable plants” -- and the basis of his lecture called "Programmable Plants: The link between NCSU, NASA, UBP and LASMEA" -- Davies said “the concept was to have plants growing on Mars and send signals to them to change their metabolism. What was missing was the identity of the signal that we would send millions of miles. The connection with UBP/LASMEA [the Laboratoire des Sciences et Materiaux pour l’Electronique et d’Automatique research group] is that our work there has shown that low level (like a cell phone) irradiation of one leaf of a plant can turn on many genes all over the plant; thus the long-distance stimulus would be cell phone-level irradiation.”

His collaboration with Blaise Pascal University has been translated into numerous joint articles and continues today (at LASMEA) with the study of biological effects of electromagnetic waves.