sexta-feira, 23 de maio de 2014

Living Enterprise as the Foundation of a Generative Economy

Very interesting !!!!


“What kind of economy is consistent with living inside a living being?” This was a question posed to us under a leafy canopy, deep in the woods of southern England, not far from Schumacher College where I’d come as a teacher. I stood listening with a group of students as resident ecologist Stephan Harding posed what for me would become a pivotal question – the only question there is, really, as we negotiate the turn from the industrial age into an entirely new age of civilization.

I’d come to Schumacher to share my learnings from four years as co-founder of Corporation 20/20 at Tellus Institute in Boston, where I’d helped to lead hundreds of experts in business, law, government, labor, and civil society to explore what, at the time, seemed to me the most critical question of our day: How could corporations be redesigned to incorporate social and ecological aims as deeply as financial aims?

Over 20 years as co-founder and publisher of Business Ethics magazine, I had seen how corporations and financial markets had come to be the dominant institutions of society, and how their profit-maximizing operating system had become the operating system of the planet. That design lay at the root of many major ills facing our society. But if corporate design was the core problem, the question of redesigning corporations did not quite hit the mark as the solution. It was Stephan’s talk that helped me understand why.

You don’t start with the corporation and ask how to redesign it. You start with life, with human life and the life of the planet, and ask, how do we generate the conditions for life’s flourishing?

f you stand inside a large corporation and ask how to make our economy more sustainable, the answers are about incremental change from the existing model. The only way to start that conversation is to fit your concerns inside the frame of profit maximization. (“Here’s how you can make more money through sustainability practices.”) Asking corporations to change their fundamental frame is like asking a bear to change its DNA and become a swan.

The founding generation of America didn’t begin by telling the king how caring for the peasants would improve his return on investment. They articulated truths they held to be self-evident. That’s what Stephan did in that forest. He said simply:

“A thing is right when it enhances the stability and beauty of the total ecosystem. It is wrong when it damages it.”

The sustainability of the larger system comes first. Everything else has to fit itself within that frame.

From maximizing profits to sustaining life

If the dominant ownership designs of today are built around profit maximization, central to that imperative is the need to grow. As Herman Daly and others have so eloquently articulated, the growth imperative threatens the living system of the Earth. When we take apart the system to see where this imperative resides, we find that what keeps it in overdrive are the demands of Wall Street for ever-higher profits and stock price. Corporations, and the capital markets where their ownership shares trade, are the internal combustion engine of the capitalist economy. They are where it hits the ground and goes. And where it spins out of control. As Fritjof Capra put it, “It’s an alarming thought that organizational systems are now the main driving force of ecological systems.”

In the short run, profit-maximizing companies can help in a rapid transition to an ecologically cleaner economy. But in the somewhat longer run, that transition might represent a brief moment in time. If human civilization and planetary ecosystems are still functioning well 50 years from now (not a small if), what about the next 50 years? And the next 100 or 200 or 1,000 years beyond that? What kind of economy will be suited for ongoing life inside the living earth? Will it be an economy dominated by massive corporations intent solely on earnings growth? That doesn’t seem likely. When you take the long view, the question turns itself about:

Can we sustain a low-growth or no-growth economy indefinitely without changing dominant ownership designs?

That seems unlikely. Probably impossible. How, then, do we make the turn? How can we design economic architectures that are self-organized not around profit maximization, but around serving the needs of life?

After my sojourn in England, this question set me on a journey in search of answers. I had seen, over many years, how extractive design – the quest for endless extraction of more and more financial wealth – was at the root of many of our ills. I began a quest to find alternative designs. And I was heartened to find they were everywhere, emerging in largely unsung, disconnected experiments all over the world.

I visited wind farms in Denmark that had been started and owned by wind guilds, groups of small investors who joined together to fund and own wind installations, with no corporate middleman. Denmark now generates one-fifth of its electric power from wind, more than any other nation. And this success is widely credited to the grassroots movement of the wind guilds. It’s an ecological success story made possible by the community-rooted ownership designs behind it.

I studied the community forests of Mexico, where the rights to govern and profit from the forest have often been granted to local communities, many of them indigenous tribal peoples – like the Zapotec Indians of Ixtlan de Juarez in southern Mexico. At Ixtlan, the problems that bedeviled other forests in Mexico, like deforestation and illegal logging, have become relatively unknown. The reason is community members have incentive to be stewards, because forest enterprises employ 300 people harvesting timber, making furniture, and caring for the forest. These are living forests, communities of trees and humans, where the purpose is to live well together. Worldwide, more than a quarter of forests in developing nations are managed by local communities. In Mexico, community forests represent more than 60 percent of all forests. Yet they remain virtually unknown, even in Mexico.
On Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, I visited South Mountain Company, an employee-owned design and build firm specializing in sustainable construction, which has made a deliberate choice to slow down its growth. It was the first example I’d seen of a consciously post-growth company. As its president John Abrams had written, this company was “challenging the false gospel of unchecked growth.” After the crash of 2008, it had in fact opted to shrink – and to do so in the most humane way possible. Its ability to make that choice arose directly from the fact that the company was owned and controlled not by absentee owners, but by its own employees.

In Maine, I visited a lobster cooperative that supported more than 40 families, helping them by allowing lobstermen to collectively buy bait and sell their catch efficiently. It is a small-scale community ownership design that is part of a larger economic design – a state governing framework. That framework includes democratically elected lobster zone councils, as well as ecological rules prohibiting the taking of lobsters that are under-age, or carrying eggs. Most innovatively, the state rules prohibit corporate boats from operating in sensitive inshore waters, allowing only owner-operated boats there. In other words, only small, local, mom-and-pop type lobster operations are allowed to work the best waters. At a time when the vast majority of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, the Maine lobster industry remains vibrant. It is often cited as an example of successful collective action in “common pool resource management.” Rules on ownership design are central to it all.
n Denmark, I visited the town of Kalundborg, where the major pharmaceutical Novo Nordisk produces 40 percent of the world’s insulin. The town is home to a famed example of “industrial symbiosis,” where this company’s waste becomes food for the ecosystem. Yeast from making insulin, for example, is treated and then passed to farmers to be used as food for pigs, or for fertilizer. That ecological design – which has been operating and stable for decades – is possible only because ownership of this major, publicly traded company is also stable. It is an example of a design that is common throughout northern Europe, which can be called the “mission-controlled corporation.” The aim of this company is to defeat diabetes. And the corporation is legally controlled by a foundation, intent on that social mission.

These various models embody a coherent school of design – a common form of organization that brings the living concerns of the human and ecological communities into the world of property rights and economic power. They can be called a family of generative ownership designs. They are aimed at creating the conditions where all life can thrive. Together, they potentially form the foundation for a generative economy – a living economy that might have a built-in tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable.

In ownership design, there are five essential patterns that work together to create either extractive or generative design: purpose, membership, governance, capital, and networks. Extractive ownership has a Financial Purpose: maximizing profits. Generative ownership has a Living Purpose: creating the conditions for life. While corporations today have Absentee Membership, with owners disconnected from the life of enterprise, generative ownership has Rooted Membership, with ownership held in human hands. While extractive ownership involves Governance by Markets, with control by capital markets on autopilot, generative designs have Mission-Controlled Governance, with control by those focused on social mission. While extractive investments involve Casino Finance, alternative approaches involve Stakeholder Finance, where capital becomes a friend rather than a master. Instead of Commodity Networks, where goods are traded based solely on price, generative economic relations are supported by Ethical Networks, which offer collective support for social and ecological norms.

Ownership is the gravitational field that holds an economy in its orbit. Today, dominant ownership designs lock us into behaviors that lead to financial excess and ecological overshoot. But emerging, alternative ownership patterns – when properly designed – can have a tendency to lead to beneficial outcomes. It may be that these designs are the elements needed to form the foundation for a generative economy, a living economy – an economy that might at last be consistent with living inside a living being.

Marjorie Kelly is a Fellow at Tellus Institute in Boston and author of The Divine Right of Capital and the more recent Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. Learn more at This blog post was originally posted on the Sustainable Prosperity blog in December 2012.

sexta-feira, 16 de maio de 2014

Do Plants Think?

Scientist Daniel Chamovitz unveils the surprising world of plants that see, feel, smell—and remember

By Gareth Cook

What a Plant Knows, Daniel Chamowitz, FSG Books - Daniel Chamowitz

How aware are plants? This is the central question behind a fascinating new book, “What a Plant Knows,” by Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. A plant, he argues, can see, smell and feel. It can mount a defense when under siege, and warn its neighbors of trouble on the way. A plant can even be said to have a memory. But does this mean that plants think — or that one can speak of a “neuroscience” of the flower? Chamovitz answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

1. How did you first get interested in this topic?
My interest in the parallels between plant and human senses got their start when I was a young postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Xing-Wang Deng at Yale University in the mid 1990s. I was interested in studying a biological process that would be specific to plants, and would not be connected to human biology (probably as a response to the six other “doctors” in my family, all of whom are physicians). So I was drawn to the question of how plants sense light to regulate their development.

It had been known for decades that plants use light not only for photosynthesis, but also as a signal that changes the way plants grow. In my research I discovered a unique group of genes necessary for a plant to determine if it’s in the light or in the dark. When we reported our findings, it appeared these genes were unique to the plant kingdom, which fit well with my desire to avoid any thing touching on human biology. But much to my surprise and against all of my plans, I later discovered that this same group of genes is also part of the human DNA.

This led to the obvious question as to what these seemingly “plant-specific” genes do in people.  Many years later, we now know that these same genes are important in animals for the timing of cell division, the axonal growth of neurons, and the proper functioning of the immune system.

But most amazingly, these genes also regulate responses to light in animals! While we don’t change our form in response to light as plants do, we are affected by lab at the level of our internal clock. Our internal circadian clocks keep us on a 24 hour rhythm, which is why when we travel half way around the world we experience jet lag. But this clock can be reset by light. A few years ago I showed, in collaboration with Justin Blau at NYU, that mutant fruit flies that were missing some of these genes lost the ability to respond to light. In other words, if we changed their clocks, they remained in jetlag.

This led me to realize that the genetic difference between plants and animals is not as significant as I had once naively believed. So while not actively researching this field, I began to question the parallels between plant and human biology even as my own research evolved from studying plant responses to light to leukemia in fruit flies.

2. How do think people should change how they think about plants?
People have to realize that plants are complex organisms that live rich, sensual lives. You know many of us relate to plants as inanimate objects, not much different from stones. Even the fact that many people substitute silk flowers for real ones, or artificial Christmas trees for a live one, is exemplary at some level of how we relate to plants. You know, I don’t know anyone who keeps a stuffed dog in place of a real one!

But if we realize that all of plant biology arises from the evolutionary constriction of the “rootedness” that keep plants immobile, then we can start to appreciate the very sophisticated biology going on in leaves and flowers. If you think about it, rootedness is a huge evolutionary constraint. It means that plants can’t escape a bad environment, can’t migrate in the search of food or a mate. So plants had to develop incredibly sensitive and complex sensory mechanisms that would let them survive in ever changing environments. I mean if you’re hungry or thirsty, you can walk to the nearest watering hole (or bar). If you’re hot, you can move north, if you’re looking for a mate, you can go out to a party. But plants are immobile. They need to see where their food is. They need to feel the weather, and they need to smell danger. And then they need to be able to integrate all of this very dynamic and changing information. Just because we don’t see plants moving doesn’t mean that there’s not a very rich and dynamic world going on inside the plant.

3. You say that plants have a sense of smell?
Sure. But to answer this we have to define for ourselves what “smell” is. When we smell something, we sense a volatile chemical that’s dissolved in the air, and then react in someway to this smell. The clearest example in plants is what happens during fruit ripening. You may have heard that if you put a ripe and an unripe fruit together in the same bag, the unripe one will ripen faster. This happens because the ripe one releases a ripening pheromone into the air, and the green fruit smells it and then starts ripening itself. This happens not only in our kitchens, but also, or even primarily, in nature. When one fruit starts to ripen, it releases this hormone which is called ethylene, which is sensed by neighboring fruits, until entire trees and groves ripen more or less in synchrony.

Another example of a plant using smell is how a parasitic plant called dodder finds its food. Dodder can’t do photosynthesis, and so has to live off of other plants. The way it finds its host plant is by smelling. A dodder can detect minute amounts of chemicals released in the air by neighboring plants, and will actually pick the one that it finds tastiest! In one classic experiment scientists showed that dodder prefers tomato to wheat because it prefers the smell.

3a. How about hearing?
This is a bit trickier because while loads of research support the idea that plants see, smell, taste and feel, support for plant auditory prowess is indirectly proportional to the amount of anecdotal information we have about the ways in which music may influence how a plant grows. Many of us have heard stories about plants flourishing in rooms with classical music. Typically, though, much of the research on music and plants was, to put it mildly, not carried out by investigators grounded in the scientific method. Not surprisingly, in most of these studies, the plants thrived in music that the experimenter also preferred.

From an evolutionary perspective, it also could be that plants haven’t really needed to hear. The evolutionary advantage created from hearing in humans and other animals serves as one way our bodies warn us of potentially dangerous situations. Our early human ancestors could hear a dangerous predator stalking them through the forest, while today we hear the motor of an approaching car. Hearing also enables rapid communication between individuals and between animals. Elephants can find each other across vast distances by vocalizing subsonic waves that rumble around objects and travel for miles. A dolphin pod can find a dolphin pup lost in the ocean through its distress chirps. What’s common in all of these situations is that sound enables a rapid communication of information and a response, which is often movement—fleeing from a fire, escaping from attack, finding family.

But plants are rooted, sessile organisms. While they can grow toward the sun, and bend with gravity, they can’t flee. They can’t escape. They don’t migrate with the seasons. As such, perhaps the audible signals we’re used to in our world are irrelevant for a plant.

All that being said, I have to cover myself hear by pointing out that some very recent research hints that plants may respond to sounds. Not to music mind you, which is irrelevant for a plant, but to certain vibrations. It will be very interesting to see how this pans out.

4. Do plants communicate with each other?
At a basic level, yes.  But I guess it centers around how you define communication. There is no doubt that plants respond to cues from other plants. For example, if a maple tree is attacked by bugs, it releases a pheromone into the air that is picked up by the neighboring trees. This induces the receiving trees to start making chemicals that will help it fight off the impending bug attack. So on the face of it, this is definitely communication.

But I think we also have to ask the question of intent (if we can even use that word when describing plants, but humor me while I anthropomorphize). Are the trees communicating, meaning is that attacked tree warning its surrounding ones? Or could it be more subtle? Maybe it makes more sense that the attacked branch is communicating to the other branches of the same tree in an effort for self survival, while the neighboring trees, well they’re just eavesdropping and benefiting from the signal.

There are also other examples of this type of communication. For example a very recent study showed that plants also communicate through signals passed from root to root. In this case the “talking” plant had been stressed by drought, and it “told” its neighboring plants to prepare for a lack of water. We know the signal went through the roots because this never happened if the two plants were simply in neighboring pots. They had to have neighboring roots.

5. Do plants have a memory?
Plants definitely have several different forms of memory, just like people do. They have short term memory, immune memory and even transgenerational memory! I know this is a hard concept to grasp for some people, but if memory entails forming the memory (encoding information), retaining the memory (storing information), and recalling the memory (retrieving information), then plants definitely remember. For example a Venus Fly Trap needs to have two of the hairs on its leaves touched by a bug in order to shut, so it remembers that the first one has been touched. But this only lasts about 20 seconds, and then it forgets. Wheat seedlings remember that they’ve gone through winter before they start to flower and make seeds. And some stressed plants give rise to progeny that are more resistant to the same stress, a type of transgenerational memory that’s also been recently shown also in animals. While the short term memory in the venus fly trap is electricity-based, much like neural activity, the longer term memories are based in epigenetics — changes in gene activity that don’t require alterations in the DNA code, as mutations do, which are still passed down from parent to offspring.

6. Would you say, then, that plants “think”?
No I wouldn’t, but maybe that’s where I’m still limited in my own thinking! To me thinking and information processing are two different constructs. I have to be careful here since this is really bordering on the philosophical, but I think purposeful thinking necessitates a highly developed brain and autonoetic, or at least noetic, consciousness. Plants exhibit elements of anoetic consciousness which doesn’t include, in my understanding, the ability to think.  Just as a plant can’t suffer subjective pain in the absence of a brain, I also don’t think that it thinks.

7. Do you see any analogy between what plants do and what the human brain does? Can there be a neuroscience of plants, minus the neurons?
First off, and at the risk of offending some of my closest friends, I think the term plant neurobiology is as ridiculous as say, human floral biology. Plants do not have neuron just as humans don’t have flowers!

But you don’t need neurons in order to have cell to cell communication and information storage and processing.  Even in animals, not all information is processed or stored only in the brain. The brain is dominant in higher-order processing in more complex animals, but not in simple ones.  Different parts of the plant communicate with each other, exchanging information on cellular, physiological and environmental states. For example root growth is dependent on a hormonal signal that’s generated in the tips of shoots and transported to the growing roots, while shoot development is partially dependent on a signal that’s generated in the roots. Leaves send signals to the tip of the shoot telling them to start making flowers.  In this way, if you really want to do some major hand waving, the entire plant is analogous to the brain.

But while plants don’t have neurons, plants both produce and are affected by neuroactive chemicals! For example, the glutamate receptor is a neuroreceptor in the human brain necessary for memory formation and learning. While plants don’t have neurons, they do have glutamate receptors and what’s fascinating is that the same drugs that inhibit the human glutamate receptor also affect plants. From studying these proteins in plants, scientists have learned how glutamate receptors mediate communication from cell to cell. So maybe the question should be posed to a neurobiologist if there could be a botany of humans, minus the flowers!

Darwin, one of the great plant researchers, proposed what has become known as the “root-brain” hypothesis. Darwin proposed that the tip of the root, the part that we call the meristem, acts like the brain does in lower animals, receiving sensory input and directing movement. Several modern-day research groups are following up on this line of research.

Article Source: Scientific American: Do Plants Think?

quinta-feira, 15 de maio de 2014

Estradas que geram energia? Conheça o projeto Solar Roadways

por Vanessa Barbosa - - 15/05/2014

Anos atrás, quando a expressão "aquecimento global" começou a ganhar popularidade, o casal de americanos Julie e Scott Brusaw teve a ideia de substituir o asfalto e superfícies de concreto por painéis fotovoltaicos para gerar energia solar no próprio meio urbano.

Nascia assim o projeto Solar Roadways, painéis rodoviários solares que podem ser instalados em estradas, estacionamentos, calçadas, ciclovias, parques infantis ou em qualquer superfície onde incida sol.

A fim de chegar às vias comerciais, o projeto busca apoio no site de financiamento coletivo Indiegogo para angariar US$ 1 milhão até o final do mês.

O casal afirma que, se todas as rodovias dos EUA fossem cobertas por esses paineis, seria possível gerar três vezes mais energia do que o país consome hoje. Em 2009, a dupla assinou um contrato com a Administração Rodoviária Federal dos EUA para construir o primeiro protótipo, que deu origem a um estacionamento solar, forte o suficiente para aguentar veículos pesados.

Para provar, o casal resolveu passar com um trator por cima, como mostra o vídeo:

Segundo a descrição do projeto, a estrutura serve a outros propósitos além de gerar energia solar.

Em dias de neve, é capaz de aquecer para evitar o acúmulo de gelo, tem ainda LEDs para criar linhas e sinalização rodoviária, e um corredor adjunto para armazenar e tratar águas pluviais

quarta-feira, 14 de maio de 2014

Plants Exhibit The Same Senses As Humans And See, Touch, Smell, Hear and Even Taste

By: Daniel Chamovitz, Director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University In Israel, Guest Contributor

Have you ever wondered what the grass under your feet feels, what an apple tree smells, or a marigold sees? Plants stimulate our senses constantly, but most of us never consider them as sensory beings too. In fact senses are extremely important to plants. Whatever life throws at them, they remain rooted to the spot – they cannot migrate in search of food, escape a swarm of locusts or find shelter from a storm. To grow and survive in unpredictable conditions, plants need to sense their environment and react accordingly. Some people may not be comfortable describing what plants do as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. They certainly lack noses, eyes, ears, mouths and skin, but in what follows, I hope to convince you that the sensory world of plants is not so very different from our own. 

Plants have scientifically been show to draw alternative sources of energy from other plants. Plants influence each other in many ways and they communicate through “nanomechanical oscillations” vibrations on the tiniest atomic or molecular scale or as close as you can get to telepathic communication. However, their sense and communication are measurable in very much the ways as are humans.

What do plants see? The obvious answer is that, like us, they see light. Just as we have photoreceptors in our eyes, they have their own throughout their stems and leaves. These allow them to differentiate between red and blue, and even see wavelengths that we cannot, in the far red and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum. Plants also see the direction light is coming from, can tell whether it is intense or dim and can judge how long ago the lights were turned off.

Studies have shown that plants bend to the light as if hungry for the sun’s rays, which is exactly what they are. Photosynthesis uses light energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar, so plants need to detect light sources to get food.

We now know they do this using phototropins – light receptors in the membranes of cells in the plant’s tip. Phototropins are sensitive to blue light. When they sense it, they initiate a cascade of signals that ends up modulating the activity of the hormone auxin. This causes cells on the shaded side of the stem to elongate, bending the plant towards the light.

Plants see red light using receptors in their leaves called phytochromes. A phytochrome is a sort of light-activated switch: when irradiated with red light, it changes its conformation so that it is primed to detect far-red light, and when irradiated by far red it changes back to the form that is sensitive to red light. This has two key functions. It allows plants to “turn off” at the end of the day – because far-red light predominates at sunset – and wake up again next day when the sun is high enough in the sky for red light to switch their phytochromes back on. It also allows them to sense when they are in the shade. Chlorophyll, the main pigment for photosynthesis, absorbs red but not far-red light, so when a plant is being crowded out by other plants it will see more far-red light than when it is growing in full sunshine. This directly influences the level of activated phytochromes, causing the plant to grow rapidly to get better exposure to the sun.

Phototropins and phytochromes are completely different from the photoreceptors found in animals’ eyes, although all consist of a protein connected to a chemical dye that absorbs the light. There is one type of photoreceptor, however, that we share. During daylight hours, cryptochromes within cells detect blue and UV light, using this signal to set an organism’s internal clock or circadian rhythms. In plants, this clock regulates many processes, including leaf movements and photosynthesis. So sight even helps plants tell the time.

Plants live in a very tactile world. Branches sway in the wind, insects crawl across leaves, and vines search out supports to hang on to. Plants are even sensitive to hot and cold, allowing them to respond to the weather by doing things like changing their growth rates and modulating their use of water. Simply touching or shaking a plant is often enough to reduce its growth, which is why vegetation in windswept locations tends to be stunted.

All plants can sense mechanical forces to some degree, but tactile sensitivity is most obvious in the carnivorous Venus flytrap. When a fly, beetle or even a small frog crawls across its specially adapted leaves, these spring together with surprising force, sandwiching the unsuspecting prey and blocking its escape. The Venus flytrap (pictured) knows when to shut because it feels its prey touching large hairs on the two lobes of the trap. But it won’t just snap shut with any stimulation – at least two hair touches must occur within about 20 seconds of each other. This helps to ensure that the prey is the ideal size and will not be able to wiggle out of the trap once it closes.

The mechanism by which the Venus flytrap feels its prey is uncannily similar to the way you feel a fly crawling on your arm. Touch receptors in your skin sense the insect and activate an electrical current that passes along nerves until it reaches your brain, which registers the fly’s presence and instigates a response. Likewise, when a fly rubs up against the Venus flytrap’s hairs, it induces a current that radiates throughout the leaves. This activates ion channels in the cell membrane and the trap springs shut, all in less than one-tenth of a second.

Although most plants do not react this fast, they feel a mechanical stimulus in the same way. What’s really fascinating is that even at the level of individual cells, plants and animals use similar proteins to feel things. These mechanoreceptors are embedded in the cell membranes and, when stimulated by mechanical pressure or distortion, they allow charged ions to cross the membrane. This creates a difference in electrical charge between the inside and the outside of the cell, which generates a current. Unlike us, plants lack a brain to translate these signals into sensations with emotional connotations. Nevertheless, their sensitivity to touch allows them to respond to their changing environments in specific and appropriate ways.

The parasitic vine called dodder is the sniffer dog of the vegetable world. It contains almost no chlorophyll – the pigment that most plants use to make food – so to eat it must suck the sugary sap from other plants. Dodder uses olfaction to hunt down its quarry. It can distinguish potential victims from their smell, homing in on its favourites and also using scents emitted by unhealthy specimens to avoid them (Science, vol 313, p 1964).

Dodder is exceptionally sensitive to odours, but all plants have a sense of smell. In animals, sensors in the nose recognise and bind with molecules in the air. Plants also have receptors that respond to volatile chemicals. What do they smell?

Back in the 1920s, researchers with the US Department of Agriculture demonstrated that treating unripe fruit with ethylene gas would induce it to ripen. Since then, it has become apparent that all ripening fruits emit ethylene in copious amounts, can smell it, and respond by ripening. This ensures not only that a fruit ripens uniformly but also that neighbouring ones ripen together, producing more ethylene and leading to a ripening cascade. Coordinated ripening is important because it attracts animals to eat the fruit and disperse the seeds. Ethylene is a plant hormone that regulates many processes, so being able to smell it has other advantages too, such as in the coordination of leaf-colour changes in the autumn.

Above all, however, smell allows plants to communicate. Research in the 1980s showed that healthy trees in the vicinity of caterpillar-infested ones were resistant to the pests because their leaves contained chemicals that made them unpalatable. Other trees isolated from the infestation did not produce these chemicals, so it seemed that the attacked trees had sent an airborne pheromonal message that primed healthy trees to prepare for imminent attack. We now know that many volatile chemicals are involved.

Our senses of smell and taste are intimately entwined. Conceptually, smells enhance or dampen tastes sensed by our tongues. Physically, our mouths and nasal cavities are connected so that our noses can pick up smells released as food is chewed. The major difference is that smell deals with volatile chemicals and taste senses soluble chemicals.

The two senses are also connected in plants. This is best seen in their responses to attacks by insects or pathogenic bacteria. As we have already seen, plants under attack emit a variety of volatile chemicals to warn their neighbours, but one called methyl jasmonate is particularly important. This is where taste comes in. Although methyl jasmonate is a gas and so an effective airborne messenger molecule, it is not very active in plants. Instead, when it diffuses in through the stomata – the pores in the surface of the leaf – it gets converted into the water-soluble jasmonic acid. This attaches to a specific receptor in the cells and triggers the leaf’s defence responses. Just as our tongues contain receptors for different taste molecules in food, plants contain receptors for different soluble molecules, including jasmonic acid.

As taste involves soluble chemicals, it is perhaps not surprising that much of a plant’s sense of taste is in its roots, surrounded as they are by soil and water. A classic experiment reveals that plants can use underground chemical messages to recognise their relatives nearby (New Scientist, 26 March 2011, p46). There is also root-to-root communication between unrelated neighbours. When a row of plants was subjected to drought conditions, it took just one hour for the message to travel to plants that were five rows away, causing them to close their stomata in preparation for a lack of water (PLoS One, vol6, pe23625). Other plants that were just as close but not connected by their roots failed to react. So the signal must have been passed from root to root, probably taking the form of a soluble molecule.

You have probably heard conflicting stories about the musical preferences of plants. Some people are convinced they flourish when exposed to classical compositions, others believe that heavy metal or bebop does the trick. Strangely, plants’ musical tastes show a remarkable congruence with those of the humans reporting them. Although research in this area has a long history, most of it is not very scientific and, if you think about it, experiments studying music and plants were doomed from the start. We don’t judge a plant’s vision by showing it an eye chart and asking it to read the bottom line. Olfaction is not measured by its ability to differentiate between Chanel No.5 and Old Spice.

Music is not ecologically relevant for plants, so we shouldn’t expect them to be tuned in to it. But there are sounds that, at least theoretically, it could be advantageous for them to hear. These include the vibrations produced by insects, such as a bee’s buzz or an aphid’s wing beat, and minuscule sounds that might be created by even smaller organisms. Plants might even benefit from the ability to detect certain sounds produced by other plants. For example, researchers at the Institute of Plant Sciences in Bern, Switzerland, recently recorded ultrasonic vibrations emanating from pine and oak trees during a drought (New Phytologist, vol179, p1070), perhaps signalling to other trees to prepare for dry conditions.

Stefano Mancuso from the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology at the University of Florence, Italy, and his colleagues are starting to apply rigorous standards to study plant hearing (Trends in Plant Sciences, vol17, p323). Their preliminary results indicate that corn roots grow towards specific frequencies of vibrations. What is even more surprising is their finding that roots themselves may also be emitting sound waves. For now, though, we have no idea how a plant might produce sound signals let alone how they might detect them.

If this research pans out, then we will know that plants have the same five senses as animals. Either way, there can be no doubt that plants are sensually aware organisms in their own right.

Daniel Chamovitz is director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University, Israel.


segunda-feira, 12 de maio de 2014

How Plants Help Each Other Grow By Near-Telepathic Communication

on 17 March, 2014 at 22:46

Plants have scientifically been show to draw alternative sources of energy from other plants. Plants influence each other in many ways and they communicate through “nanomechanical oscillations” vibrations on the tiniest atomic or molecular scale or as close as you can get to telepathic communication.

Members of Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse’s biological research team have previously shown that green algae not only engages in photosynthesis, but also has an alternative source of energy: it can draw it from other plants. His research findings were released in the online journal Nature Communications.

Other research published last year, showed that young corn roots made clicking sounds, and that when suspended in water they would lean towards sounds made in the same frequency range (about 220 Hz). So it seemed that plants do emit and react to sound, and the researchers wanted to delve into this idea further.

Working with chili plants in their most recent study, specifically Capsicum annuum, they first grew chili seeds on their own and then in the presence of other chili plants, basil and fennel, and recorded their rates of germination and growth. Fennel is considered an aggressive plant that hinders the germination of other plants around it, while basil is generally considered to be a beneficial plant for gardening and an ideal companion for chili plants.

Germination rates were fairly low when the seeds were grown on their own, lower when grown in the presence of fennel (as expected). Germination rates were better with other chili plants around, and even better with basil.

Since plants are already known to ‘talk’ through chemical signals and to react to light, the researchers separated newly planted seeds from the other plants using black plastic, to block any other kind of ‘signaling’ other than through sound. When fennel was on the other side of the plastic, the chemical effects of its presence, which would have inhibited germination of the chili seeds, were blocked. The chili seeds grew much quicker than normal though, possibly because they still ‘knew’ the fennel was there, ‘knew’ it had the potential to have a negative effect on their germination, and so they quickly got past the stage where they were vulnerable.

If even bacteria can signal one another with vibrations, why not plants, said Monica Gagliano, a plant physiologist at the University of Western Australia in Crawley.

Gagliano imagines that root-to-root alerts could transform a forest into an organic switchboard. “Considering that entire forests are all interconnected by networks of fungi, maybe plants are using fungi the way we use the Internet and sending acoustic signals through this Web. From here, who knows,” she said.

As with other life, if plants do send messages with sound, it is one of many communication tools. More work is needed to bear out Gagliano’s claims, but there are many ways that listening to plants already bears fruit.

According to the study: “This demonstrated that plants were able to sense their neighbours even when all known communication channels are blocked (i.e. light, chemicals and touch) and most importantly, recognize the potential for the interfering presence of a ‘bad neighbour’ and modify their growth accordingly.”

Then, to test if they could see similar effects with a ‘good neighbour’, they tried the same experiment with other chili plants and then with basil. When there were fully-grown chili plants in their presence blocked by the plastic, the seeds showed some improved germination (“partial response”). When basil was on the other side of the plastic, they found that the seeds grew just as well as when the plastic wasn’t there.

“Our results show that plants are able to positively influence growth of seeds by some as yet unknown mechanism,” said Dr. Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at UWA and co-author of the study, according to BioMed Central. “Bad neighbors, such as fennel, prevent chili seed germination in the same way. We believe that the answer may involve acoustic signals generated using nanomechanical oscillations from inside the cell which allow rapid communication between nearby plants.”


Flowers need water and light to grow and people are no different. Our physical bodies are like sponges, soaking up the environment. “This is exactly why there are certain people who feel uncomfortable in specific group settings where there is a mix of energy and emotions,” said psychologist and energy healer Dr. Olivia Bader-Lee.

“When energy studies become more advanced in the coming years, we will eventually see this translated to human beings as well,“ stated Bader-Lee. “The human organism is very much like a plant, it draws needed energy to feed emotional states and this can essentially energize cells or cause increases in cortisol and catabolize cells depending on the emotional trigger.”

Bader-Lee suggests that the field of bio-energy is now ever evolving and that studies on the plant and animal world will soon translate and demonstrate what energy metaphysicians have known all along — that humans can heal each other simply through energy transfer just as plants do. “Human can absorb and heal through other humans, animals, and any part of nature. That’s why being around nature is often uplifting and energizing for so many people,” she concluded.

Michael Forrester is a spiritual counselor and is a practicing motivational speaker for corporations in Japan, Canada and the United States.

Credits: PreventDisease


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