News / Science & Technology

Plants, Humans Share Sensory Awareness

Persian Cyclamen, the national flower of Israel, blooms in winter. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
Persian Cyclamen, the national flower of Israel, blooms in winter. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
Rosanne Skirble
— The Botanical Garden is a blooming paradise, about four hectares filled with a rich array of some 3,800 species drawn from Israel’s diverse landscape and from around the world. 

Danny Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University, visits the garden often to conduct research or just to take a stroll. It's the perfect setting to talk about his new book: “What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses.”

“I wrote the book because I had come to realize that a lot of what I take for granted -that plants have senses, that plants see, that plants smell, that plants know when we’re touching them - most people don’t know," he said. "And so I wrote the book to show how complex a plant’s life is and to show the science behind it.”

Earlier in his career as a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University, Chamovitz researched how plants use light, isolating the genes involved in photosynthesis. Sitting beside a shade tree, he gently pulls on a low-hanging branch, thick with leaves.
What a Plant Knows
What a Plant Knowsi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

“You can see that its stems are longer than the ones that are at the top, which are in the light," he said. "And it knows this because it can actually differentiate between higher amounts of light and smaller amounts of light and it uses this information either to make itself longer to get toward the light, or once it’s in the light, to make its leaves broader so that it can do its photosynthesis and make the energy.”

Then Chamovitz rips one of the leaves. He says this simple act sends a message to other leaves on the same branch or tree.

“The leaves next to it know that this plant was ripped. They know it because they can smell it," he said. "What they think is that some bug has come along and eaten the leaf. And when a bug eats a leaf, the leaf then gives off a gas that goes to the other leaves around it, and then those leaves absorb the gas, in other words they smell it, and then they start making chemicals that will make them less tasty to the bugs in order to protect themselves.”

Plants are rooted in earth and are acutely aware of the world around them. They know up from down, and respond to gravity in some of the same ways humans do. They know the difference between hot or cold touch.  

  • This Botanical Garden trail leads visitors into a Mediterranean scrub plot with Israeli flora. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
  • Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden Director Yuval Sapir uses the garden to teach students about the flora in Israel’s many diverse landscapes. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
  • Various treatments are tested on diseased wheat plants. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
  • Persian Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) is the national flower of Israel. A winter flower, the flower is upside down. (Garden's)
  • The endangered Rumex rothschildianus grows on coastal dunes in the most populated area of Israel. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
  • A Tel Aviv University student pollinates irises as part on-going research in plant conservation. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
  • The bark of the Arbutus andrachne helps to fight off pests. (Gavri Sion)
  • The Eastern Strawberry tree (Arbutus andrachne) grows in the Mediterranean scrub. (Gavi Sion)
  • In this garden spot, known as the Temple of Iris, garden director Yuval Sapir and graduate students do research on irises. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
  • Garden curator Mimi Ron is planting seedlings for garden beds. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)
  • The second floor of the Sarah Racine Root laboratory sets up visitors for an unexpected view underground. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • The roots of plants grow through holes in the ceiling in the Sarah Racine Root laboratory giving visitors the sensation of life underground. (Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden)

Director Yuval Sapir describes the work of Tel Aviv University's Botanical Garden.
Director Yuval Sapir describes the work of Tel Aviv University's Botanical Garden. i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

But if you think music helps plants grow, think again.   

“There is no evidence whatsoever that plants have any musical taste,” Chamovitz said.

But, Chamovitz explains, plants and humans do share a common, though distant, genetic past. Nearly two billion years ago, they were the same single-cell organism.

“Evolution is so amazing that we can see such different adaptations to the world and still live," Chamovitz said. "But what is common is that both animals and plants, both the oak tree and humans, have to know what their environment is. We have to know when we’re thirsty. We have to know where the water is. We have to find mates. We have to know when we’re cold and we have to adapt.”  

Humans developed a central nervous system to integrate all that information. Plants did it without a brain. Humans and plants exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen for life. Knowing how plants respond to a world with more people and a warming climate is key to our own survival, according to Chamovitz.  

“If we don’t understand how plants adapt to their environment, we won’t be able to assure our own future on this planet, because we won’t be able to feed ourselves,” he said.

A biologist, Chamovitz says that while humans share a lot of biology with plants, we have something that plants don’t have: the ability to care about the future.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid