Reuters reports that scientists at Britain’s John Innes Centre (JIC) have experimental evidence that plants adjust their rate of starch consumption to stave off starvation during the night when they are unable to feed on sunlight. In other words, they conserve their food during periods of famine.
This is described as a biological process of “sophisticated arithmetic calculation,” by Martin Howard of JIC.
How this works is that mechanisms inside a leaf measure the amount of starch in storage and estimate the length of time remaining until dawn, by use of an internal clock that is similar to the internal clock in the human body. Plants have a set of proteins that respond to the amount of light they’re exposed to during the day.
Scientific American has reported on a new book by Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University, called “What a Plant Knows.”
Scientists have known for decades that plants use light not only for photosynthesis, but also as a means for alerting them to make changed in the way they grow. Dr. Chamovitz, discovered a unique group of genes that are necessary for a plant to determine whether it’s in light or dark. This same group of genes is also part of human DNA.
These same genes have a significant effect on cell division, the axonal growth of neurons, and the functioning of the immune system in animals.
These effects have been shown to occur in insects. Fruit flies in which some of these genes are missing also lost the ability to respond to light. These genes also regulate responses to light in animals.
While these genes don’t make human beings change their form in response to light, they do affect our internal clocks, or circadian rhythms, which keep us on a 24-hour cycle. When we experience Jet lag, for example, the rhythms can be reset by light.
Dr. Chamovitz asserts that a plant, see, smell, response to a threat by mounting s defense and warning its neighbors.
Plants respond to cues from other plants. If a maple tree is attacked by bugs, it releases a pheromone that is received by neighboring trees, which induces them to start making chemicals that will help it fight off an impending attack. Plant experiencing drought use their roots to signal nearby plants to prepare for a lack of water. When tobacco plants are attacked by caterpillars, they release a chemical into the air like a distress that attracts predatory bugs that eat caterpillars.
We smell because of we sense a volatile chemical that is dissolved in the air, and then react to the smell. When fruit starts to on a tree, it releases this hormone called ethylene, which is sensed by neighboring fruits, causing fruit to ripen synchronously. This same process occurs when ripe and unripe fruit is placed in the same bag. The ripe fruit releases a pheromone which the green fruit smells then starts ripening itself.
Plants may also have hearing ability. There is anecdotal evidence about plants flourishing in rooms in which classical music is played. It seems in experimental studies, plants seemed to thrive in music that the experimenters preferred. It may be, however, that plants are simply affected by certain vibrations.
But how do we know that plants can think?
Because plants have several different forms of memory, as humans do. Memory entails the encoding, storage and retrieval of information. Plants have been shown to do this. Wheat seedlings remember that they’ve gone through winter before they start to bloom. Plants that have experienced adverse effects create progeny that are more resistant to the same distress. This is a type of transgenerational memory also found in animals. Scientists conducted an experiment in which they shone light on plants for an hour and then expose them to a virus. The plants protected themselves against the pathogen by manufacturing a particular chemical. (See i09: We Come from the Future, at http://io9.com/5901172/10-pieces-of-evidence-that-plants-are-smarter-than-you-think.)
Thus plants exhibit elements of anoetic consciousness. This is awareness through sensation without cognitive content. While plants don’t have neurons, they do have what are called “glutamate receptors.” These also exist in humans. The same drugs that inhibit human glutamate receptor in people also affect plants.
How will this anoetic consciousness help humanity?
Based upon their recent findings, scientists at JIC characterize the ability of plants to modify their food intake when they cannot rely on the sun’s energy as a process of arithmetic calculation. The capacity to perform these calculations “is essential for plant growth and productivity,” JIC metabolic biologist Alison Smith said.
She stated that understanding how plants continue to grow in the dark “could help unlock new ways to boost crop yield.”
Plants capacity to “think” could help the human race to survive.
By: Tom Ukinski