Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On plant communication

I've written briefly about animal communication here before, but this week I came across a new one. This time, it's plants, and this is actually pretty cool stuff.
In news to gladden the heart of Prince Charles, who was once much mocked for having conversations with cabbages and the like, it appears science has caught up with what many gardeners have long held true – plants can communicate. 
Researchers revealed how plants talk by modifying a cabbage gene which triggers the production of a gas emitted when a plant’s surface is cut or pierced. 
By adding the protein luciferase – which makes fireflies glow in the dark – to the DNA the plants’ emissions could be monitored on camera. 
One cabbage plant had a leaf cut off with scissors and started emitting a gas – methyl jasmonate – thereby ‘telling’ its neighbours there may be trouble ahead. 
Two nearby cabbage plants, which had not been touched, received the message they should protect themselves. They did this by producing toxic chemicals on the leaves to fend off predators such as caterpillars. 
It is the first time such a process has been caught on camera. Scientists say it raises the possibility that plants are all communicating with each other in a complex ‘invisible language’ which we know nothing about.
It's pretty amazing how resourceful all living things--whether humans, other animals, or even plants--can be when their livelihood is being threatened. I think that plants are "smarter" than we give them credit for, if only from a pure survival point of view. It's a different type of intelligence, of course, but I think it's fascinating.

[Daily Mail]

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