Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Plants aren't as passive as they look

When I was growing up my step-mom used to tell me about stuff she was learning or reading, mostly through the Org (Church of Scientology). One of the stories that stuck in my head was about how plants had been used to identify a murderer - The Secret Life of Plants (http://www.pureinsight.org/node/1496). Lyall Watson, a South African, was one of the researchers, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

As a teacher of science, part of me considers this book to be complete trash - pseudoscience at best. Yet, something about this particular story has stuck with me. Plants do react better, albeit anecdotally, to people who treat them well - talk and sing to them, and it's not just about increasing CO2 levels. Science has shown that plants do react to sound.

Since that book was published, other studies have shown that plants do produce stress chemicals - jasmonates are produced when plants become infected, or wounded by herbivory. They are also released into the air as volatile compounds, which nearby plants react to by increasing their own production of jasmonates, in preparation for herbivory or preventing infection. (Nitric oxide is another, also used as a cellular signal to kick-start the immune response in plants.)

What strikes me about this, is that plants whose roots or leaves are not touching are able to communicate with each other, and warn each other about potential impending danger. Recent research also shows that plants appear to be MAKING sounds, with their roots, to communicate with other plants. It appears that some plant roots produce and respond to sound in the 200Hz range (humans hearing range is from 20- 20000 Hz). It has also been shown that plants in danger produce a higher pitch sound than when they are not threatened - the equivalent of screaming or shouting.

 Obviously, there is a lot more going on than we currently understand. But all this begs the question - were Lyall and his cronies onto something? Were they just ahead of the curve? Are plants sentient in some way?

While the Bible is often metaphorical and allegorical in its language, I can't but help thinking of certain texts with fresh eyes now...

Is 55:12 the trees of the field will clap their hands...
Ps 96:12 ...let all the trees of the forest sing for joy...

When the trees clap their hands, when they sing, I wonder... are they wafting praise chemicals around??? It's an interesting thought, isn't it?
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