The intelligence of plants is not merely a shadow of human knowing, and their behavior is not a rudimentary form of human conduct. After all, unlike animal and humans, for whom behavior is most often associated with physical movement, plants behave by changing their states, both morphologically and physiologically. An honest approach to the capacities of plants thus requires a simultaneous acknowledgement of the similarities and differences between them and other living beings. In scientific circles, there is certainly no consensus on the implications of new research data drawn from the behavior of plant cells, tissues, and communities. On the one hand, the opponents of the Copernican Revolution in botany claim that the data do nothing but exemplify what has been known all along about plant plasticity and adaptability. This is the position expressed in the open letter to the journal Trends in Plant Science, signed in 2007 by 36 plant scientists who deemed the extrapolations of plant neurobiology “questionable.” On the other hand, we have the investigations of kin recognition in plants by Richard Karban and Kaori Shiojiri; of plant intelligence by Anthony Trewavas; of plant bioacoustics by Stefano Mancuso and Monica Gagliano; of the sensitivity of root apices as brain-like “command centers” by František Baluška and Dieter Volkmann; of plant learning and communication by Ariel Novoplansky; and of plant senses by Daniel Chamowitz, among many others. Their peer-reviewed research findings no longer fit within the scientific framework where plants are studied as objects, rather than living organisms. Leaving aside the provocative analogies they suggest between plants and animals, doesn’t the drastic change in approach (from plants as objects to plants as subjects) amount to a veritable Copernican Revolution, or Kuhnian paradigm shift, in botany?
Posts tagged plants
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At the intersections of culture, gardening and technology we can start to see how plants can become organisational principles for human society in the turbulent times of the 21st century. Although we may need to scavenge at the fringes of contemporary society, we can observe many healing effects that humans can have on their surroundings through a symbiotic collaboration with plants. Some fight desertification and remediate industrial wastelands through natural farming and permaculture. Others design whole lifecycle, closed-loop technological and architectural systems inspired by natural processes, based on the art and science of biomimicry. Yet, these are scattered examples. We still don’t have widespread methods to improve wasteful, often counter-productive human behaviours. How do we encourage broader, longer-term cultural changes? What varieties of culture would be capable of forging symbiotic relationships between postindustrial human societies and the rest of the earth? How do we compost bitterness to grow beauty?
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Deformed “Shasta daisy” in Nasushiobara City / 0.5 μSv/h at 1m above the ground (via https://twitter.com/san_kaido/status/603513371934130176)
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“Our members do not recoil from the future. We believe that life on earth is embarked on a unique trajectory, one that will not be repeated. We believe that the outward journey has entailed a long and intricate interweaving of the interests of all living things. We believe that the homeward path will entail the systematic unweaving of those threads. We believe we are eminently suited for a role in this process.”
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Certain parasitic plant species form symplastic connections to their hosts and thereby provide an additional system for studying RNA trafficking. The haustorial connections of Cuscuta and Phelipanche species are similar to graft junctions in that they are able to transmit mRNAs, viral RNAs, siRNAs, and proteins from the host plants to the parasite. In contrast to other graft systems, these parasites form connections with host species that span a wide phylogenetic range, such that a high degree of nucleotide sequence divergence may exist between host and parasites and allow confident identification of most host RNAs in the parasite system.
“People have been talking about terraforming, but what I’m trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it’s possible to do this, that it’s possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials,” Michael Mautner, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher and one of the world’s only “astroecologists” told me. “What I’ve found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials.”
In the not too distant future, we could see cyborg plants that tell us when they need more water, what chemicals they’ve been exposed to, and what parasites are eating their roots. These part-organic, part-electronic creations may even tell us how much pollution is in the air. And yes, they’ll plug into the network. That’s right: We’re on our way to the Internet of Plants.
The Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team, a group of NASA scientists, contractors, students and volunteers, is finally bringing to life an idea that has been discussed and debated for decades. They will try to grow arabidopsis, basil, sunflowers, and turnips in coffee-can-sized aluminum cylinders that will serve as plant habitats. But these are no ordinary containers – they’re packed to the brim with cameras, sensors, and electronics that will allow the team to receive image broadcasts of the plants as they grow. These habitats will have to be able to successfully regulate their own temperature, water intake, and power supply in order to brave the harsh lunar climate.
After untold hours in the lab experimenting with different transmission electron microscopy (TEM) imaging methods, the team found a new organelle inside the plant cell: the tannosome. It’s responsible for churning out tannins, the naturally occurring molecules belonging to the polyphenols class of organic chemicals.
Plants that were frozen during the “Little Ice Age” centuries ago have been observed sprouting new growth, scientists say. Samples of 400-year-old plants known as bryophytes have flourished under laboratory conditions.
It has been hypothesized that both fungi and bacteria interacting with plant roots do so using similar genetic mechanisms. It has already been shown that rhizobial bacteria – particularly the nitrogen fixing microbes associated with leguminous plants – produce lipochitooligosaccharide (LCO) signals used in the communication with host plants. The authors of this study discovered that the fungus Glomus intraradices, like the nitrogen-fixing bacteria, secretes an array of sulfated and non-sulfated simple LCOs which stimulated the formation of arbuscular mycorrhizae in disparately related plants, such as Medicago (Fabaceae), Daucus carota (Wild Carrot; Apiaceae), and Tagetes patula (French Marigold; Asteraceae). These compounds were found in Glomus intraradices both interacting with plant roots and in free-living resting spores in the soil.
A team of designers and scientists at Cambridge University will be exhibiting a novel moss table at the London Design Festival later this week. The prototype table will showcase an emerging technology called biophotovoltaics (BPV) which uses the natural process of photosynthesis to generate electrical energy.
Cryptochromes (from the Greek κρυπτό χρώμα, hidden colour) are a class of blue light-sensitive flavoproteins found in plants and animals. Cryptochromes are involved in the circadian rhythms of plants and animals, and in the sensing of magnetic fields in a number of species. The name Cryptochrome was proposed as a pun combining the cryptic nature of the photoreceptor, and the cryptogamic organisms on which many blue light studies were carried out.
Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.
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