Friday, May 24, 2013


When some reports claiming that Cows could yield more milk if piped music is provided in their stable, there were not many takers. Similarly in an American Farm rearing more than 100 cows, each one is named individually and it was claimed that they respond to their respective names when called. There are birds which are known to "talk" largely mimicking what their masters say. Whether animals can talk to each other in a way man does not understand is a subject matter of debate though they do have feelings and societal bonding which are not doubted. What about plants? Do they talk to each other? Do they understand human gestures? Does a plant loving farmer gets more yield of crops than that produced in a mechanized farm? These are questions for which there is no conclusive answer. According to a recent report, plants do communicate among themselves that is reflected in the positive growth of some of them. This has been demonstrated with reference to Basil, a herb which was found to ensure better growth of Chilli plant when the latter is planted nearby. Here is a take on this amazing finding by a group of scientists in Australia.  

"Plants may be able to 'talk' to each other say researchers from the University of Western Australia after carrying out experiments in which two types of plants were completely separated from each other and yet one appeared to influence the other. Basil, known and revered in India as 'tulsi', is well known to have a beneficial effect on neighboring plants. This is because it gives out some organic volatile substances that inhibit the growth of some weeds. Its roots retain moisture longer and so help the neighboring plants. Earlier research had established that like basil, many plants 'communicate' to other plants by chemicals, touch or shade giving. But in this latest research by Monica Gagliano and Michael Renton, published on line in the scientific journal BMC Ecology, it was shown that basil plants could influence chili plants in a positive way even after they were completely separated from each other by a vacuum barrier. The researchers said that since chemical, touch or light communication was ruled out, the possibility of 'acoustic' signals, that is, sound was strongly suggested. They suggested that 'nanomechanical oscillations of various components in the cytoskeleton can produce a spectrum of vibrations' communicating to other plants necessary information. In the experiments, chili seeds were planted surrounding a basil plant which was enclosed in a double walled box with vacuum between the two walls. The whole set of plants was further enclosed in a similar double walled vacuumed box to block any outside interference. It was discovered that chili seeds planted next to the basil plant germinated faster than those which did not have the good neighbor. This happened irrespective of whether the basil plant was masked (kept in the box) or open (no box)."

The scientists who laid out the experiments did achieve better growth for Chiili plants planted near the Basil plant even when they were insulated from each other. However their interpretation is subject to different conclusions by different people. If these findings are scientifically valid, it may open up a whole field of agronomy which can identify pairing of plants with good neighborly relations and which in turn can increase productivity of plant foods dramatically. As the scientific basis of the finding is still to be ascertained beyond any doubt, further work of collaborative and interdisciplinary nature may be necessary for arriving at unanimity. Many people believe that plant kingdom holds lot of surprises for mankind and even a fraction of their potential is not tapped yet!  


No comments: