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New Documentary Airing September 5th on PBS Stations in Phoenix & Tucson
Explains How 30-Year Research Can Help Boost Biodiversity, Tolerate Climate Change

PHOENIX…August 20, 2012…Can a single plant or animal gene alter an entire landscape? Science now says “yes” – and a new hour-long documentary titledA Thousand Invisible Cords: Connecting Genes to Ecosystems traces the 30-year journey leading to this remarkable discovery. The program demonstrates that living things are connected in more ways that anyone thought possible. The Arizona premiere of the program will be Wednesday, September 5 at 9 p.m. airing on both Eight, Arizona PBS in Phoenix and on PBS 6 in Tucson.

This discovery presents a new and hopeful perspective on confronting the most important environmental challenges of our time. As nineteenth-century naturalist John Muir stated, "When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.”

This film takes these connections to a whole new scientific level by exploring the frontiers of ecology with one of the smallest biological units, the gene. “Just as the ‘green revolution’ has used genetics to help feed the world, community genetics can be used to help save and restore natural ecosystems,” said Tom Whitham, Northern Arizona University (NAU) Regents’ Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, and Executive Director of the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The science behind the documentary began with the study of one tiny insect – an aphid. Aphids feed on cottonwoods, a fast-growing tree native to the banks of North American waterways. Whitham wanted to learn how a cottonwood’s genes affect its susceptibility to aphid attack.

“Sometimes there is a perception that curiosity about the working of seemingly trivial organisms such as an aphid is ivory tower research of no consequence,” said Whitham. “Yet, such research often results in the discovery of fundamental principles.”

A Thousand Invisible Cords, produced and directed by Dan Boone and Ryan Belnap of NAU’S IDEA Lab, features Whitham and other members of The Cottonwood Ecology Group, a team of internationally recognized scientists from NAU and other universities across the United States and abroad. They discuss their contributions to the new field of community and ecosystem genetics. For more information, visit the program’s website at or find it on Facebook at

Arizona Public Media (AZPM®) is a member-supported non-profit media organization based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and is the trusted source of information that promotes thoughtful conversation and community collaboration. The organization offers six channels of television content, three channels of radio content, a robust lineup of online offerings, and community and educational outreach to residents in Southern Arizona and beyond. AZPM produces award-winning original television, radio and online content from its digital studios on the campus of the University of Arizona and is provided as a community service and educational resource. More information about AZPM, including program schedules and Video-on-Demand offerings, can be found online at Arizona Public Media® and AZPM® are registered trademarks of the Arizona Board of Regents.

A Thousand Invisible Cords explores how a single plant or animal gene can alter an entire landscape. The documentary airs Wednesday, September 5 at 9 p.m. on both Eight, Arizona PBS in Phoenix and on PBS 6 in Tucson.

Photo credits: Northern Arizona University/IDEA Lab

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