Sedated Plants Seem To Lose Consciousness. Are They Conscious?
Are plants conscious? New research sheds some light.
People often don't respect plants at all. Plants are another form of life. They move - they situate closer to the sun each morning and return to their center at night. People don't give much thought to it, it's simply what plants do, get light. But there have been signs of higher plant intelligence observed recently.
For example, the pea seems as though it is able to assess risk when under poor soil conditions. The sensitive plant can create memories and learn to stop recoiling if you mess enough with it. The Venus flytrap is actually capable of counting how many insects trigger its trap. We have also observed plants communicating with each other and with caterpillars.
A recent study published in the Annals of Botany shows evidence that plants can be frozen in place with a range of anesthetics - including the types that are used on humans typically when they undergo surgery. The study has given scientists insights that may help them better understand the variety of anesthetics used in surgeries. However, the research also shows that plants are quite complex organisms, and are not so different from animals than people may think.
A time-lapse video of pea tendrils moving under normal conditions
Frantisek Baluska, a plant cell biologist for the University of Bonn - which is situated in Germany - and co-author of this study has stated that plants are not just robotic, stimulus-response devices. He also has said that they are living organisms, which have their own problems. He believes their problems could be comparable to human feelings such as pain or joy.
This could be known as their compass and plants sometimes use this compass to deal with stress, competition or development. They take in information from their environment and produce their own anesthetics such as menthol, ethanol, and cocaine, similar to how humans release chemicals that dull pain during trauma. These chemicals then may act within the plant or be dispersed through the air to nearby plants.
Our own anesthetics work on plants too which was confirmed in this study. Exactly how they work is still unclear though. The researchers behind the study trapped pea plant in glass chambers with ether, soaked roots of the sensitive plant and seedlings of garden cress in lidocaine and then measured the electrical activity of the Venus fly trap's cells. After about an hour of being under these conditions, the plants became unresponsive. The seedlings stayed dormant and the Venus fly trap didn't react to a stimulus that is similar to a bug crawling across its maw. Their cells completely stopped firing.
Sedated pea tendrils immediately stop moving, and begin to curl
When the effects of the chemicals wore off, the plants returned back to life as usual. It was like they had been paused and were regaining consciousness, something that we don't associate with plants at all.
Researchers already know that a variety of anesthetics with different chemical structures or elements all are capable of halting pain, consciousness or activity in plants and animals, even in bacteria. They can't seem to figure out just how they render us unconscious or how so many different kinds can physically act on the human nervous system. Some bind to receptors to turn off activity, but this only explains how a select few works.
While under the effects of anesthetics, the physical properties of cell membranes change, they become more flexible. Apply pressure to the cells, this effect can be reversed, and the anesthetic wears off. This suggests that the secret is very simple and basic, it's just what happens physically to cells when they meet these chemicals.
Dr Baluska and his team found that in some plant root cells that were under the effect of anesthesia, the membranes were having trouble going about their usual functions - that is recycling cellar material by transporting it in and out of cells. He can't say exactly what was altering the membrane function in the plants, but the membranes are important for transferring messages via electricity between cells. These message are what cause action or movement.
This electrical activity that moves across neurons is thought by some scientists to contribute to human consciousness. If electrical activity is also being halted by anesthetic in plants too, this could mean they have some form of consciousness that gets halted.
Maybe we are more alike to plants than we thought.