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THOUGHT PROVOKING | DO PLANTS DREAM IF THEY PRODUCE DMT?

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DREAMING PLANTS

Do plants dream if they produce DMT? 



Plant intelligencePlants do not have brains or neuronal networks like we do, at least in the traditional sense; however, reactions within signaling pathways may provide a biochemical basis for learning and memory in addition to computation and basic problem-solving.

The realisation that such similarities exist, and that plants have a far greater ability to sense their world than appearances might suggest, has led to some remarkable claims about "plant intelligence", and even spawned a new discipline. Electrical signalling in plants was one of the key factors in the birth of "plant neurobiology" (a term used despite the lack of neurons in plants), and today there are plant researchers investigating such traditionally non-plant areas as memory, learning and problem-solving.

In 2014, a team at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland showed that when a caterpillar attacks an Arabidopsis plant, it triggers a wave of electrical activity. The presence of electrical signalling in plants is not a new idea – physiologist John Burdon-Sanderson proposed it as a mechanism for the action of the Venus flytrap as early as 1874 – but what is surprising is the role played by molecules called glutamate receptors.

Glutamate is the most important neurotransmitter in our central nervous system, and it plays exactly the same role in plants, except with one crucial difference: plants do not have nervous systems.

"Molecular biology and genomics tell us that plants and animals are composed of a surprisingly limited set of molecular 'building blocks' that are very much alike," says Fatima Cvrčková, a researcher at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Electrical communication has evolved in two distinct ways, each time employing a set of building blocks that presumably pre-dates the split between animals and plants around 1.5 billion years ago.

Jack C Schultz, a professor in the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and has spent four decades investigating the interactions between plants and insects. These plants are moving with purpose, which means they must be aware of what is going on around them. "To respond correctly, plants also need sophisticated sensing devices tuned to varying conditions," says Schultz.

While the molecular details are a little different, plants also have mechanoreceptors that detect changes in their surroundings and respond accordingly. 

In their experiments, Appel and Cocroft found that recordings of the munching noises produced by caterpillars caused plants to flood their leaves with chemical defences designed to ward off attackers. "We showed that plants responded to an ecologically-relevant 'sound' with an ecologically-relevant response," says Cocroft. For their part, Appel and Cocroft are hoping to track down the part or parts of a plant that respond to sound. Likely candidates are mechanoreceptor proteins found in all plant cells. These convert micro-deformations of the kind that sound waves can generate as they wash over an object into electrical or chemical signals.

Humans, animals, and plants all produce DMT (dimethyltryptamine) naturally. Some experts believe the pineal gland produces it in the brain and releases it when we dream. After a dose of DMT, human brain waves slip into a rhythm of delta and theta waves that look much like the brain waves of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep — the phase of sleep where the most vivid dreams occur. 

Despite lacking eyes, plants such as Arabidopsis possess at least 11 types of photoreceptor, compared to our measly four. Plants have different priorities, and their sensory systems reflect this. As Chamovitz points out in his book: "light for a plant is much more than a signal; light is food."

"Do I think plants are smart? I think plants are complex," he says. Complexity, he says, should not be confused with intelligence.

The rootedness of plants – the fact that they are unmoving – means they actually have to be much more aware of their environment than you or I do," says Chamovitz.

To full appreciate how plants perceive the world, it is important that scientists and the wider public appreciate them for what they are.

"The danger for the plant people is that if we keep comparing [plants] with animals we might miss the value of plants," says Hamant.

Conversely, the realisation that we have some things in common with plants might be an opportunity to accept that we are more plant-like than we would like to think, just as plants are more animal-like than we usually assume.

animal biologist Monica Gagliano. She presented research that suggests the mimosa pudica plant can learn from experience. And, Pollan says, merely suggesting a plant could learn was so controversial that her paper was rejected by 10 scientific journals before it was finally published.

Mimosa is a plant, which looks something like a fern, that collapses its leaves temporarily when it is disturbed. So Gagliano set up a contraption that would drop the mimosa plant, without hurting it. When the plant dropped, as expected, its leaves collapsed. She kept dropping the plants every five to six seconds.

"After five or six drops, the plants would stop responding, as if they'd learned to tune out the stimulus as irrelevent," Pollan says. "This is a very important part of learning — to learn what you can safely ignore in your environment."

What inspired this question: 

Luca and I were watching Spirit Science on youtube, which lead us to look up a short documentary on The Ark of the Covenant. The Bible gave instructions on how to build this mysterious treasure. The wood specifically named, acacia wood, was instructed to be used and overlaid with gold. 

Exodus 25:13 "You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold."

Besides the fact that acacia wood was in abudance in that region, we wondered what is so special about it? A random fact was recalled that acacia wood had one of the highest ratios of DMT. Could this be a reason?

Read More | BBC Plants Can Hear, Smell, and Respond

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