Are Plants Alive, Conscious & Reactive With Thoughts?

Nutrient Cycle process of life 450x433Cited from The ‘Root Brain Theory’ hypothesis of Charles and Francis Darwin.
Revival after more than 125 years 

Recent advances in plant molecular biology, cellular biology, electrophysiology and ecology, unmask plants as sensory and communicative organisms, characterized by active, problem-solving behavior. This clearly identifies whether or not plants are alive, conscious and reactive with thoughts. This is also a new view of conscious plants in nature, and is considered controversial by several plant scientists.7 At the heart of this problem is a failure to appreciate different living time-scales: plants generally do not move from the spot where they first became rooted, whereas animals are constantly changing their location. Nevertheless, both animals and plants show movements of their organs; but, as mentioned, these take place at greatly different rates. Are plants alive? Well, present day results,8–13 however, are increasingly coming to show that, in contrast with the classical view, plants are definitely not passive automatic organisms. On the contrary, review they possess a sensory-based cognition which leads to behavior, decisions and even displays of prototypic intelligence.4,12

Charles Darwin’s interest in plants resulted in the publication of several books from 1862 up to 1880.14–17 Whereas the period 1835–1849 was dominated by geological studies and the collecting of facts that found their way into On the Origin of Species, the second half of Darwin’s scientific activities (1850–1882) was dominated by botany (reviewed in ref. 18). One of his last books, entitled The Power of Movements in Plants,17 is a record of the numerous experiments which Charles Darwin performed together with his son Francis. It represents a breakthrough in plant biology. In this revolutionary book, the Darwins departed from the classical and still dominant view of plants as organisms which had no need of movements that were based on sensory perceptions or a brain-like organ.1,5,16,19 Plants were revealed to live in a veritable whirl of activities—but at their own slow pace—in which plant parts (leaves, roots, tendrils) continually made rhythmic, and even diurnal, nastic, tropic and nutational movements. But these observations were not accepted by the leading botanists of the time, especially the eminent plant physiologist, Julius Sachs.14,16,20,21 He castigated the Darwins for being amateurs who performed careless experiments and obtained misleading results.14,20,21 The heaviest criticism fell on the Darwins’ root decapping experiments made in relation to root growth and tropisms.16,21 It turned out, however, that it was Sachs, not the Darwins, who was maladroit. Sachs, or in fact his assistant Emil Detlefsen, removed root caps badly and his roots showed strong wounding effects.17,21 In our own experiments, the growth of decapped maize roots was even quicker after decapping than before.22 However, these roots did not accomplish any gravitropism; they grew ageotropically according to their initial orientation.22 One can consider the acceleration of root growth as an escape tropism. In soil, a root apex is easily the victim of both biotic and abiotic insults. Therefore, the speeding up of the growth of such affected roots with damaged caps, but also showing the earliest stages of cap regeneration,23 might be considered to be an adaptive trait that contributes to a plant’s ecological success.

The most controversial of the Darwins’ propositions is that roots behave as do lower animals with their apex seated at the anterior pole of the plant body where it acts as a brain-like organ (Box 1).16 This so-called ‘Root-Brain’ hypothesis16,19 has been forgotten, or ignored, for more than 125 years until we revived it a few years ago.1,19,24 Our interest in this Darwinian ‘phytocerebrated’ view of plants emerged from a long-term interest in roots, their growth and their tropisms. The numerous data and results which we review here are clearly not compatible with the classical concept of plants which places them outside the realm of cognitive, animated, animal living systems—a view which traces back to Aristotle.21

There has recently been controversy about cell, organ and plant polarity. It was initiated by plant biologists studying polar auxin transport.94 Plant anatomy treats shoots and roots as equals in terms of their polarity.94 The organ apex is always regarded as one pole, and the base of that organ as the other pole. Thus, each organ is bi-polar. This reflects the usual view which is to separate, conceptually, root and shoot organs; polarity is then defined by reference to the respective apical meristem of the root or shoot, and by an anatomically defined root-shoot transition zone between them. But a slightly different view of bi-polarity emerges if the whole plant is considered as one unit, which logically it is. In this alternative view, it is enough to emphasise this unity by recalling that the taproot of the seedling is a continuation of the embryonic root, and the plumule is the continuation of the embryonic shoot; root and shoot branches are the branched parts of a unitary plant body. Now, however, in certain quarters of recent plant cell biology, it has been assumed that the shoot apex is the apical pole and that the root apex marks the basal pole of a plant.94 Thus, a rather serious semantic problem arises because the cell pole facing the root apex should then not be termed apical, but basal.95 To most people who have worked with roots this is a schizophrenic situation. The writings of Charles and Francis Darwin present a solution: they proposed, as already mentioned, that the root apex represents the anterior end of the plant body. They reached this conclusion in the last sentence of ‘The Power of Movements in Plants’ (Box 1),17 and it was based on an analogy between roots and lower animals. Now, all nonplant multicellular organisms have their anterior pole specialized for the uptake of nutrients and for the possession of sensory and brain-like organs. The opposite pole—the posterior pole—is specialized by the expression of sexual organs, excretory apparatuses and motility.1 Although the Darwins did not discuss this issue further, this observation from the lower animals fits nicely with the plant body, too:1,21 the posterior pole of the plant body generates not only flowers with their sexual organs, but also gas-exchanging stomata and motile, nutating stems bearing nutating leaves and tendrils. Our proposal for polarity ignores any root/shoot transition structure and views the plant in its wholeness and follows the analogy between animals and plants. Roots are therefore anterior and shoots are posterior. This is essentially a phytoneurobiological view of the plant body, with a plant-specific ‘head’ and a ‘brain’ at the plant’s anterior end.1,19 It does provide, however, a remedy for the potentially ‘schizophrenic’ situation raised by confused notions of plant polarity. It follows that a cross wall at the end of a cell which faces the root apex is an anterior wall, and a cross wall at the other end of the cell is a posterior wall. This anterior/posterior polarity totally encompasses all root and shoot cells.

There has recently been controversy about cell, organ and plant polarity. It was initiated by plant biologists studying polar auxin transport.94 Plant anatomy treats shoots and roots as equals in terms of their polarity.94 The organ apex is always regarded as one pole, and the base of that organ as the other pole. Thus, each organ is bi-polar. This reflects the usual view which is to separate, conceptually, root and shoot organs; polarity is then defined by reference to the respective apical meristem of the root or shoot, and by an anatomically defined root-shoot transition zone between them. But a slightly different view of bi-polarity emerges if the whole plant is considered as one unit, which logically it is. In this alternative view, it is enough to emphasise this unity by recalling that the taproot of the seedling is a continuation of the embryonic root, and the plumule is the continuation of the embryonic shoot; root and shoot branches are the branched parts of a unitary plant body. Now, however, in certain quarters of recent plant cell biology, it has been assumed that the shoot apex is the apical pole and that the root apex marks the basal pole of a plant.94 Thus, a rather serious semantic problem arises because the cell pole facing the root apex should then not be termed apical, but basal.95 To most people who have worked with roots this is a schizophrenic situation. The writings of Charles and Francis Darwin present a solution: they proposed, as already mentioned, that the root apex represents the anterior end of the plant body. They reached this conclusion in the last sentence of ‘The Power of Movements in Plants’ (Box 1),17 and it was based on an analogy between roots and lower animals. Now, all nonplant multicellular organisms have their anterior pole specialized for the uptake of nutrients and for the possession of sensory and brain-like organs. The opposite pole—the posterior pole—is specialized by the expression of sexual organs, excretory apparatuses and motility.1 Although the Darwins did not discuss this issue further, this observation from the lower animals fits nicely with the plant body, too:1,21 the posterior pole of the plant body generates not only flowers with their sexual organs, but also gas-exchanging stomata and motile, nutating stems bearing nutating leaves and tendrils. Our proposal for polarity ignores any root/shoot transition structure and views the plant in its wholeness and follows the analogy between animals and plants. Roots are therefore anterior and shoots are posterior. This is essentially a phytoneurobiological view of the plant body, with a plant-specific ‘head’ and a ‘brain’ at the plant’s anterior end.1,19 It does provide, however, a remedy for the potentially ‘schizophrenic’ situation raised by confused notions of plant polarity. It follows that a cross wall at the end of a cell which faces the root apex is an anterior wall, and a cross wall at the other end of the cell is a posterior wall. This anterior/posterior polarity totally encompasses all root and shoot cells.

Recent advances in chemical ecology reveal the astonishing communicative complexity of higher plants as exemplified by the battery of volatile substances which they produce and sense in order to share with other organisms information about their physiological state.102–109 The next surprise is that plants recognize self from nonself; 109 and roots even secrete signaling exudates which mediate kin recognition.10,11 Finally, plants are also capable of a type of plant-specific cognition,3,110 suggesting that communicative and identityre-cognition systems are used, as they are in animal and human societies, to improve the fitness of plants and so further their evolution. Moreover, both animals and plants are non-automatic, decision-based organisms. Should Charles and Francis Darwin have witnessed these unprecedent discoveries, they would surely have been pleased by them.

References

Plant Signal Behaviour. 2009 Dec; 4(12): 1121–1127.
The ‘root-brain’ hypothesis of Charles and Francis Darwin
Revival after more than 125 years
František Baluška,1 Stefano Mancuso,2 Dieter Volkmann,1 and Peter W Barlow3
1IZMB; University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany
2LINV; Department of Horticulture; University of Firenze, Sesto Fiorentino (FI), Italy
3School of Biological Sciences; University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819436/

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