A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? – NYTimes.com

In Nonsense on April 29, 2012 at 20:17

If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?

A team of scientists from the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University in Israel published the results of its peer-reviewed research, revealing that a pea plant subjected to drought conditions communicated its stress to other such plants, with which it shared its soil. In other words, through the roots, it relayed to its neighbors the biochemical message about the onset of drought, prompting them to react as though they, too, were in a similar predicament.

Curiously, having received the signal, plants not directly affected by this particular environmental stress factor were better able to withstand adverse conditions when they actually occurred. This means that the recipients of biochemical communication could draw on their “memories” — information stored at the cellular level — to activate appropriate defenses and adaptive responses when the need arose.

In 1973, the publication of “The Secret Life of Plants,” by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, which portrayed vegetal life as exquisitely sensitive, responsive and in some respects comparable to human life, was generally regarded as pseudoscience. The authors were not scientists, and clearly the results reported in that book, many of them outlandish, could not be reproduced. But today, new, hard scientific data appears to be buttressing the book’s fundamental idea that plants are more complex organisms than previously thought.

The research findings of the team at the Blaustein Institute form yet another building block in the growing fields of plant intelligence studies and neurobotany that, at the very least, ought to prompt us to rethink our relation to plants. Is it morally permissible to submit to total instrumentalization living beings that, though they do not have a central nervous system, are capable of basic learning and communication? Should their swift response to stress leave us coldly indifferent, while animal suffering provokes intense feelings of pity and compassion?

 

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