Plants Can Learn Like Animals, Study

Researchers in Australia have published evidence that plants can learn and remember just as well as it would be expected of animals.

Asian Scientist (Jan. 20, 2014) – After publishing a study about plants being able to ‘talk’ using sound, a researcher in Australia has now discovered that they can ‘learn’ as well.

While this may sound stranger than fiction, Dr Monica Gagliano has solid evidence to support her theories, the latest of which is published in Oecologia.

In the new article, Dr Gagliano and her team show that Mimosa pudica plants can learn and remember just as well as it would be expected of animals, but of course, they do it all without a brain.

Using the same experimental framework normally applied to test learnt behavioral responses and trade-offs in animals, they designed their experiments as if Mimosa was indeed an animal.

Dr Gagliano and her colleagues trained Mimosa plants’ short- and long-term memories under both high and low-light environments by repeatedly dropping water on them using a custom-designed apparatus (Mimosa folds its leaves in response to the drop).

In their experiments, Mimosa plants stopped closing their leaves when they learnt that the repeated disturbance had no real damaging consequence. Mimosa plants were able to acquire the learnt behavior in a matter of seconds and as in animals, learning was faster in a less favorable environment (i.e. low light).

Most remarkably, these plants were able to remember what had been learned for several weeks, even after environmental conditions had changed.

Although plants lack brains and neural tissues, they do possess a sophisticated calcium-based signaling network in their cells that is similar to animals’ memory processes.

While the researchers do not yet understand the biological basis for this learning mechanism, their findings may radically change the way we perceive plants and the boundaries between plants and animals. This includes our definition of learning (and hence memory) as a unique property of organisms with functioning nervous systems.

The article can be found at: Gagliano M et al. (2014) Experience Teaches Plants To Learn Faster And Forget Slower In Environments Where It Matters.


Source: University of Western Australia; Photo: alexlomas/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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