Source: CVDaily Feed

Matthew LaPlante is a former newspaper writer and now an assistant professor of Journalism at Utah State University who continues to maintain a career as a working journalist.

He and a former student, Paul Christiansen, authored an article, “Devastated: the World’s Largest Organism is in Utah — and It’s Dying.”

The piece by LaPlante and Christiansen was recently honored as a 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award winner. 

“We tackled the subject of Pando, which is thought to be the world’s largest known living organism. It is also suspected to be the world’s oldest living organism and it happens to be here in central Utah,” said LaPlante.

Pando, Latin for “I Spread”, is a huge grove of genetically identical aspen woods that are in reality one organism connected through a massive interconnected root system. Located in Utah’s Sevier County, near Fish Lake, it is officially the world’s largest living organism and is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 years old. 

“Usually an aspen clone doesn’t grow much greater than a couple of acres. The mystery about Pando is how did it happen grow to be so incredibly large where other Aspen groves might grow to a stand of 20 or 30 stems or may grow to one or two acres. But it is very uncommon for it to grow much larger than that.”

LaPlante and Christiansen set about answering how, after an estimated 80,000 years on the planet,  this Aspen clone is dying.

The story documents Pando’s struggle for survival in the face of boring insects, casually carved graffiti, infections, climate change and more.

The winning story highlights the efforts of USU scientists to facilitate the birth of a new generation of “suckers,” the tiny shoots that might grow into sturdy aspen clones and possibly perpetuate the 80,000-year-old forest.

LaPlante and Christiansen, currently a reporter for Wyoming’s “Gillette News Record,” will be invited to attend the February 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, Calif. where award winners will receive $3,000 and a plaque.