July 30, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Olympic Plants Perform in Place

They may be rooted in the ground, but plants run their own Olympic organization.

Command and control center:  Running any large organization requires command and control.  Plants have one, too – one that runs on hormones.  A command and control center needs to respond to emergencies; plants can do that, too.  To see how they accomplish these functions, read “Lighting up the plant hormone ‘command system'” on PhysOrg.  The article ends with words from Zhiyong Wang of the Carnegie Institution:

“This command system seems not only to accept various inputs, but also to send branches of output signals, too, because each component acts interdependently on shared targets, but also independently on unique sets of target genes,” Wang said. “This complex network contains multiple layers and controls major plant growth and developmental processes. We believe this network will be a major target for engineering high-yielding crops.”

Intelligence agency:  Another article on PhysOrg has the attention-getting title, “Tel Aviv University researcher says plants can see, smell, feel, and taste.”  The first paragraph adds to the wonder:

Increasingly, scientists are uncovering surprising biological connections between humans and other forms of life. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher has revealed that plant and human biology is much closer than has ever been understood — and the study of these similarities could uncover the biological basis of diseases like cancer as well as other “animal” behaviors.

Prof. Daniel Chamovitz’s new book What a Plant Knows “could prompt scientists to rethink what they know about biology,” the article states.  “Ultimately, he adds, if we share so much of our genetic makeup with plants, we have to reconsider what characterizes us as human.”  He wasn’t thinking of people who “veg out” instead of working out, but noted similarities, such as the human response to light in their circadian rhythms that is similar to that in plants.  They “see” by using light “as a behavioral signal, letting them know when to open their leaves to gather necessary nutrients.”  They “smell” and have “memory” too–

And that’s not the limit of plant “senses.” Plants also demonstrate smell — a ripe fruit releases a “ripening pheromone” in the air, which is detected by unripe fruit and signals them to follow suit — as well as the ability to feel and taste. To some degree, plants also have different forms of “memory,” allowing them to encode, store, and retrieve information.

Even more intriguing, plants have some of the same genes that are implicated in breast cancer and cystic fibrosis in humans.  “Plants might not come down with these diseases, but the biological basis is the same, says Prof. Chamovitz,” a remarkable fact hard to square with evolutionary theory which would put the common ancestor of plants and humans far back in the microbial world.

Chelsie Eller gave Chamovitz’s book a good review in Science (20 July 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6092 pp. 295-296, DOI: 10.1126/science.1224876).  “Although he doesn’t make any controversial arguments, he does suggest that we reconsider what it means to be aware,” she concluded.  “If plants can see, smell, feel, know where they are, and remember, then perhaps they do possess some kind of intelligence. Maybe that is worth reflecting on the next time you casually stroll past a plant.”

Communications hub:  The sight of a whole field of wildflowers blooming simultaneously is beautiful, but raises the question: How do they know when to flower?  In a featurette about women in science, PhysOrg reported about professor Carolyn Dean who studied that very question.  The short answer is that plant flowering genes have repressors that prevent flowering until environmental factors remove them.  “The way this memory works is very conserved which means it works in a similar way in many organisms including humans.

Environmental responsibility:  Plants are certainly part of “green” energy use and pollution control, but now, the American Chemical Society says that “Green plants reduce city street pollution up to eight times more than previously believed.”  City planners would do well to include more ivy, hedges and planters in “urban canyons” to clean up their act, reported PhysOrg.

As usual, these articles had little or nothing to say about evolution, because none of the findings are helpful to evolutionary theory.  They provide negative arguments against Darwinism, such as requiring the complexity to appear inexplicably far back into some microbial common ancestor; and they provide positive evidence for intelligent design, such as the ability to “encode, store, and retrieve information.”  The natural inference from our experience is that commonality in complex features implies common design.  Follow this evidence to its logical conclusion, and you will undoubtedly enjoy the plants around you more.


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