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The Secret Life of Plants: They Hear, Communicate and Scream

The Secret Life of Plants: They Hear, Communicate and Scream 86

We are all too chauvinistic. Considering ourselves to be the pinnacle of evolution, we distribute all living things in a hierarchy according to the degree of closeness to ourselves. Plants are so unlike us that they seem to be creatures as if not quite alive. 

The biblical Noah was not given any instructions about their rescue aboard the ark. Modern vegans do not consider it shameful to take their lives, and fighters against animal exploitation are not interested in “plant rights.” In fact, they have no nervous system, eyes and ears, they cannot hit or run away. All this makes the plants different, but not defective. They do not lead a passive existence of a “vegetable”, but they feel the world around them and react to what is happening around them. In the words of Professor Jack Schultz, “Plants are just very slow animals.”

They hear

The Secret Life of Plants became public in large part thanks to a book by Peter Tompkins, published in the early 1970s, at the height of the New Age movement. Unfortunately, it turned out to be not free from many delusions characteristic of that time and gave rise to many myths, the most famous of which was the “love” of plants for classical music and contempt for modern music.

 “Pumpkins, forced to listen to rock, deviated from the speakers and even tried to climb the slippery glass wall of the chamber,” – Tompkins described the experiments conducted by Dorothy Retallack.

We must say that Mrs. Retallack was not a scientist, but a singer (mezzo-soprano). Her experiments, reproduced by professional botanists, showed no particular plant response to music of any style. But this does not mean that they hear nothing at all. Experiments have demonstrated over and over again that plants can perceive acoustic waves and react to them – for example, the roots of young corn grow in the direction of a source of oscillations with a frequency of 200-300 Hz (approximately from a small octave salt to a pe first). Why is still unknown.

In general, it is difficult to say why plants need “hearing”, although in many cases the ability to respond to sounds can be very useful. Heidi Appel and Rex Cockcroft have shown that Tal’s rezuhovidka perfectly “hears” the vibrations created by the aphid that devours its leaves. This inconspicuous relative of cabbage easily distinguishes such sounds from ordinary noises like the wind, the grasshopper mating song, or the vibrations caused by a harmless fly on a leaf.

The Secret Life of Plants: They Hear, Communicate and Scream 87
Helen Steiner, with support from Microsoft, is working on the Florence art project, a system for communicating with houseplants. According to the concept, signals can be transmitted to the plant using light and color, and the answer can be recognized by the composition of the emitted volatiles and by the general condition of the plant. A computer algorithm “translates” these signals into words of ordinary human speech.

They scream

This sensitivity is based on the work of mechanoreceptors, which are found in the cells of all parts of plants. Unlike ears, they are not localized, but distributed throughout the body, like our tactile receptors, and therefore it was not immediately possible to understand their role. Having noticed an attack, the rezukhovidka actively reacts to it, changing the activity of many genes, preparing for the healing of injuries and releasing glucosinolates, natural insecticides. 

Perhaps, by the nature of the vibrations, plants even distinguish between insects: different types of aphids or caterpillars cause completely different responses from the genome. Other plants, when attacked, secrete sweet nectar, which attracts predatory insects such as wasps, the worst enemies of aphids. And all of them are sure to warn the neighbors: back in 1983, Jack Schultz and Ian Baldwin showed that healthy maple leaves react to the presence of damaged ones, including defense mechanisms. Their communication takes place in the “chemical language” of volatile substances.

They communicate

This courtesy is not limited to relatives, and even distant species are able to “understand” each other’s danger signals: it is easier to repulse intruders together. For example, it has been experimentally shown that tobacco develops a protective reaction when wormwood growing nearby is damaged. The plants seem to be screaming in pain, warning their neighbors, and to hear this scream, you just need to “sniff” well. However, whether this can be considered intentional communication is still unclear. 

Perhaps in this way the plant itself transmits a volatile signal from some of its parts to others, and the neighbors only read its chemical “echo”. Real communication is provided to them … “mushroom Internet”.

The root systems of higher plants form close symbiotic associations with the mycelium of soil fungi. They constantly exchange organic matter and mineral salts. But the flow of substances is apparently not the only one moving along this network. Plants whose mycorrhiza is isolated from their neighbors develop more slowly and tolerate testing worse. 

This suggests that mycorrhiza also serves for the transmission of chemical signals – through the mediation, and possibly even “censorship” from the fungal symbionts. This system has been compared to a social network, and is often referred to simply as the Wood Wide Web.

The Secret Life of Plants: They Hear, Communicate and Scream 88
The Swiss startup Vivent offers plant lovers to purchase a ready-made device PhytlSigns. By reading weak electrical signals from the stem or leaves, it converts it into a kind of music, which, according to manufacturers, allows you to assess the state and even “mood” of the plant.

They move

All these “feelings” and “communications” help plants find water, nutrients and light, defend themselves against parasites and herbivores, and attack themselves. They allow you to rebuild metabolism, grow and reorient the position of leaves – to move. The behavior of the Venus flytrap may seem like something incredible: not only does this plant eat animals, it also hunts them. 

But the insectivorous predator is no exception among other flora. Just by speeding up the video of a week in the life of a sunflower, we will see how it turns to follow the sun and how it “falls asleep” at night, covering the leaves and flowers. In high speed shooting, the growing root tip looks exactly like a worm or caterpillar crawling towards the target.

Plants have no muscles, and movement is provided by cell growth and turgor pressure, the “density” of their filling with water. The cells act like a complexly coordinated hydraulic system. Long before video recordings and the time-lapse technique, Darwin drew attention to this, who studied the slow but obvious reactions of the growing root to the environment. 

His book ‘The Movement of Plants’ ends with the famous:

“It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the root, endowed with the ability to direct the movements of neighboring parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals … which perceives impressions from the senses and gives direction to various movements.”

Some scholars took Darwin’s words as another epiphany. Biologist at the University of Florence Stefano Mancuso drew attention to a special group of cells on the growing tips of the stem and roots, which is located at the border between the dividing cells of the apical meristem and the cells of the stretch zone that continue to grow but not divide. Back in the late 1990s, Mancuso discovered that the activity of this “transition zone” directs the expansion of the cells in the stretch zone, and thus the movement of the entire root. This happens due to the redistribution of auxins, which are the main plant growth hormones.

They think?

As in many other tissues, scientists notice very familiar changes in membrane polarization in the cells of the transition zone themselves. The charges inside and outside them fluctuate, like the potentials on the membranes of neurons. Of course, the performance of a real brain will never be achieved by such a tiny group: there are no more than a few hundred cells in each transition zone. But even in a small herbaceous plant, the root system can include millions of such developing tips. In sum, they already give quite an impressive number of “neurons”. The structure of this thinking network resembles a decentralized, distributed Internet network, and its complexity is quite comparable to the real brain of a mammal.

It is difficult to say how much this “brain” is capable of thinking, but Israeli botanist Alex Kaselnik and his colleagues found that in many cases, plants do behave almost like us. Scientists put common seed peas in conditions under which it could grow roots in a pot with a stable nutrient content or in a neighboring one, where it was constantly changing. 

It turned out that if there is enough food in the first pot, the peas will prefer it, but if there is too little, they will start to “take risks”, and more roots will grow in the second pot. Not all specialists were ready to accept the idea of ​​the possibility of thinking in plants. Apparently, she shocked Stefano Mancuso himself more than others: today the scientist is the founder and head of the unique “International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology” and calls for the development of “plant-like” robots. 

This call has its own logic. After all, if the task of such a robot is not to work on a space station, but to study the water regime or monitor the environment, then why not focus on plants that are so remarkably adapted to this? And when the time comes to start terraforming Mars, who better than plants will “tell” how to return life to the desert? .. It remains to find out what plants themselves think about space exploration. who are so admirably adapted to it? And when the time comes to start terraforming Mars, who better than plants will “tell” how to return life to the desert? .. It remains to find out what plants themselves think about space exploration. who are so admirably adapted to it? And when the time comes to start terraforming Mars, who better than plants will “tell” how to return life to the desert? .. It remains to find out what plants themselves think about space exploration.


Plants have a wonderful sense of the position of their own “body” in space. The plant, laid to one side, will orient itself and continue to grow in a new direction, perfectly distinguishing where is up and where is down. While on a rotating platform, it will grow in the direction of centrifugal force. Both are associated with the work of statocytes, cells that contain heavy statolithic spheres that settle under gravity. Their position allows the plant to “feel” the vertical right.


Planet Earth

Polar vortex: “wild” winter is coming in the US, Northern Europe and East Asia after the 16th of January

Polar vortex: "wild" winter is coming in the US, Northern Europe and East Asia after the 16th of January 97

In the upper atmosphere above the North Pole, experts saw a rapidly swirling vortex of cold air that could bring severe frosts to the United States, Northern Europe and East Asia. Serious cold snap and snowy weather are expected after January the 16th.

Snowfalls and a cold snap hit South Korea since the start of 2021, hitting historic snow maximums and temperatures. In the country, for the first time since 1964, television and newer communications are sending people cold snap warnings:

The situation is similar in Japan, where a new snow storm hit historic highs:

On January 7, the thermometer In Beijing dropped to -20 degrees Celsius, breaking the 1966 record. In other regions of China, the temperature is also not sugar, and you can only move around in special uniforms:

The cold even reached Taiwan, where the temperature in some areas dropped below freezing point, snow poured down and people realized that rice terraces can be used as a ski jump:

Even more snow went to Spain, where on January 6, 2021, a temperature of -34.1 ° C was recorded – the lowest on record. After that, a snow storm hit the country, which has not been seen for 80 years:

The same thing happens in Canada and in the northern states of the United States:

It seems that after a stratospheric warming, the subpolar vortex began to split:

The vortex itself is a standard phenomenon. However, this time experts were surprised at his movement. It is possible that in the near future it will be divided into two parts. 

Scientists associate the strange behavior with the changed climate in the Arctic, which has become warmer. From September to December, the amount of ice cover decreased significantly.

The polar vortex is a low-pressure region located in the stratosphere and filled with cold air. When the jet stream of air that holds the vortex weakens, the low pressure area moves south. 

As the ice shrinks, more moisture will move inland. It will turn to snow, so snowfalls are expected. Snow, in turn, reflects heat, leading to a cold snap.

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Planet Earth

Hospital in Naples was evacuated after a new, huge sinkhole appeared

Hospital in Naples was evacuated after a new, huge sinkhole appeared 98

Eyewitnesses said they heard a loud crash at dawn when a huge hole in the ground formed outside the Ponticelli Ospedale del Mare hospital in eastern Naples.

Early in the morning of January 8, 2021, a sinkhole occurred in the parking lot of a clinic in Naples. The depth of the formed cavity is about 20 meters, the total area of ​​the hole is about 2,000 square meters.

No casualties were found at the scene; firefighters say the sinkhole “affected an area of ​​about 500 square meters” and engulfed several cars parked near the hospital.

As the press writes and as a little can be seen from the videos, rescuers and firefighters were running around the pit together with the governor of the area.  But who should be there in the forefront are Italian geologists, since Naples stands in the very center of the volcanic system known as the Phlegrean Fields.

If the surface collapsed, moreover – the surface reinforced with concrete and reinforced from below with some kind of communications, then we are talking about serious soil deformations caused by the activity of magma.

Italy has been in doubt since the summer of 2020, because swarms were observed there in very atypical places in May, and according to the forecasts of old Italian seismologists, who had witnessed many strong earthquakes, it should have boomed in the August region.

Fortunately, nothing bad happened to Italy and there was no big earthquake. But, since there are swarms, it means that something is being prepared, the magma is gathering strength. 

Following this particular sinkhole event – an obvious sign that a major earthquake in Italy is already very close.

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Planet Earth

A new great pandemic cycle has begun (again) in China

A new great pandemic cycle has begun (again) in China 99

In the first months of 2020, the whole world with a certain fright followed the events unfolding in China, where people fell on the streets during the day and astronauts wandered, and in the evening crematoria began to smoke. And now, with the onset of December, the cycle seems to be repeating itself.

Shunyi area in Beijing, where the authorities announced “wartime status” the day before. As you can see in the videos, thousands of people are lined up in the queue for mandatory testing:

Dalian city, where “wartime” is also declared. Neighborhoods are blockaded, people are walled up in entrances, familiar characters of George Lucas roam the streets:

Chinese ‘rescuers’, before performing a combat mission:

Chengdu City:

Daluo Port, Yunnan – tourists came for adventure and they received the ‘time of their life’ after leaving the ramp:

If something happens in Beijing, it does not mean that tomorrow the same will happen everywhere. However, the trend towards such dynamics is observed and, as the practice of the first wave of the pandemic has shown, all countries and people, to one degree or another, have taken into account the ‘Chinese experience’. 

Therefore, one must think that everything will now be in peace, as in spring – a new global round of the fight against the Covid has begun in China, a new great pandemic cycle!

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