More and more people around the world are becoming vegetarians as their dietary philosophies focus on the abstention of meat. They consider that meat is obtained by killing animals, which are beings with intelligence and emotion. However, what they might not give a thought to while gorging on a plate of salad is that ‘“plants can hear themselves being eaten,” according to scientists.
Indeed, this is bad news for all those salad lovers, vegans, and vegetarians.
A study released by the researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) in July 2014 shows that plants can detect sound around them and can feel the vibrations of something chewing on them, and in turn react in a defensive way.
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However, it remains unclear if plants can actually feel themselves being eaten, but the study shows that the sound of munching can actually make them release chemical substances as a defensive mechanism.
Heidi Appel, Dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College, said: “We found that ‘feeding vibrations’ signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars,” according to a report by Dailymail. Appel was previously the senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and the Bond Life Sciences Center at MU.
Appel collaborated with R. B. Cocroft, who during the study was a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at MU. “However, our work is the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration,” Appel said in a press release.
For the study, researchers placed caterpillars on the Arabidopsis thaliana, a small cabbage-like plant, and recorded the vibrations of caterpillars chewing on them with the help of a special microphone that measures how quickly the surface of the leaf is moving using a reflected laser beam.
Next, Appel and Cocroft played the recordings of feeding vibrations of caterpillars to one set of plants and silence to the second set. What they observed was indeed surprising. When the caterpillars chewed on both the sets of plants, the first set of plants secreted more mustard oils compared to the second set. These oils are repulsive to caterpillars and hence act as a defense mechanism.
“What is remarkable is that the plants exposed to different vibrations, including those made by a gentle wind or different insect sounds that share some acoustic features with caterpillar feeding vibrations did not increase their chemical defenses,” Cocroft said.
“Caterpillars react to this chemical defense by crawling away, so using vibrations to enhance plant defenses could be useful to agriculture,” Appel further added.
The study, titled “Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing,” was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Apparently, South African botanist Lyall Watson shared his groundbreaking research way back in 1973, proving that a polygraph, or lie detector, can detect a plant’s feelings. However, some scientists dismiss it.
That is to say—plants have feelings.
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