THE new sunday express Voices Pushpesh Pant Ravi Shankar Sathya Saran Ajai Sahni Shampa Dhar-Kamath Swami Sukhabodhananda MAGAZINE Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment june 4 2023 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Trees of Life A growing body of research on plant consciousness impacts current notions of ethics, nutrition and human survival By Ravi Shankar “Tamasa bahuru’ona vestitah karmahetuna antahsanjña bhavantyate sukhadukha smarita” Because of their evolutionary level, and specific methods of development, plants are unable to express themselves. But they possess internal sensitivity feel pleasure and pain. , Manu Smriti (1:49) The mystery of universal consciousness has taunted human knowledge for centuries. It has inspired legends and proved the Darwinian theory of evolution. It has influenced art and culture, customs, taboos, superstition, religion and science. As more revelations emerge from laboratories about man’s role in the ecosystem, the results of myriad studies will impact current notions of ethics, nutrition, survival, compassion, human life and well-being. Even as we search for evidence of life on other planets light-years away from Earth, closer home thrives a gigantic life system whose complexity is either ignored or unknown: plants. Bioscience, a growing field of research, has entered unexplored dimensions, which question existing concepts of life, sustenance and understanding of existing species. The latest findings upend how we see ourselves: ● Major incremental evidence shows plants have consciousness ● They feel pain and joy ● They feel fear and anxiety in hostile circumstances ● They communicate and have friends and defend against enemies HEAR, HEAR Recently, a team of evolutionary biologists at Tel Aviv University led by Prof. Lilach Hadany stirred up a storm by proving that plants cry for help when they are in danger. Using an ultrasonic microphone— a machine to record sound waves whose frequency is above 20 kHz; too high to be heard by the human ear—in a sound-proof chamber, the team recorded tobacco and tomato plants screaming in pain when distressed. They used punitive stimuli like dehydration, infections or wounds. Using AI, the scientists discovered that each plant and each type of stress produced different sounds as pops and clicks. In normal conditions, the plants made less than one sound per hour, while dehydrated and injured ones made dozens of sounds. Water comprises about 80-95 percent of the fresh biomass of a plant. Once the dehydration peak was reached, Hadany noticed that the plants fell silent. They experimented with other forms such as corn, wheat, grape and cactuses as well. All responded in a similar fashion when they became anxious about being hurt or killed. Israeli bio-scientist Simcha Lev-Yadun says when a plant is attacked by insects or mammals, it can differentiate between its foes through distinguishing factors such as mammalian saliva and insect chitin. “Accordingly, they up-regulate their specific defences,” he says. In a paper published in 2019, Hadany established that plants respond to bees during pollination by opening their petals wider, indicating that the insect world can hear plant sounds. Her experiments were on sunflowers; when the buzz of the bee got closer, the plants responded “within three minutes by making sweeter nectar”, she wrote. Plants do not have a brain or a nervous system in the conventional sense, but neurobiology research shows that plant cells communicate with each other by generating bio-electricity like humans use neurons. They employ glutamate, the same chemical neurotransmitter used by human nerve cells. Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso, a professor of the Agriculture, Food, Environment and Forestry Department at the University of Florence, concluded that plants possess 15 additional senses along with the five known ones. Research has found that they can recognise their relatives: a 2007 study on plant kinship showed that potted plants grew bigger roots to compete with others around and cooperate mutually, which indicate that they are capable of making individual decisions. In short, science proves that plants are sentient beings. They can hear things through vibrations; recorded sounds of chewing were enough for them to discharge protective chemicals. In a 2015 paper, named Effect of Music on Plants, authors Anindita Roy Chowdhury and Anshu Gupta summarised that harmonious music encouraged germination and growth of plants while heavy metal inhibited it. “Previous research has investigated how plants respond to acoustic energy, including music,” Heidi Appel, a senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri, told Insider magazine. Plants have been proven to initiate root movements towards moisture simply by detecting vibrations of water moving inside underground pipes. They have the power of sight as well; they see using photosynthesis by sensing light emitted by other objects and beings. Turn to page 2 New shoots: what studies say ● A recent study by a team of evolutionary biologists at Tel Aviv University led by Prof. Lilach Hadany shows that plants cry for help when in danger. ● Israeli bio-scientist Simcha Lev-Yadun says when attacked by insects or mammals, plants can differentiate between foes through factors such as mammalian saliva and insect chitin. ● A 2007 study on plant kinship showed that potted plants grew bigger roots to compete with others around and cooperate mutually, which indicates that they are capable of making individual decisions. ● Effect of Music on Plants, a paper published in 2015 by authors Anindita Roy Chowdhury and Anshu Gupta, showed that harmonious music encouraged the growth of plants while heavy metal inhibited it.
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