I Have No Mouth But I Still Scream – Health Blog


In light of the recent open letter from AI execs regarding the moratorium on AI development, I’m declaring a temporary moratorium on writing about it, though I doubt one will last long (and this week’s headline is, if you haven’t: I noticed: a tribute to Harlan Ellison’s classic dystopian AI short story). Instead, this week I want to write about plants. Specifically, new research that suggests plants can scream in their own way.

Bear with me.

To be fair, the researchers do not use the word “scream”. they talk about “ultrasonic air sounds” but almost every review of the research I saw used the more provocative term. It has long been known that plants are far from passive and respond to stimuli in their environment with changes in color, smell, and shape, but these researchers “show that stressed plants emit airborne sounds that can be recorded remotely and classified.” Moreover, they claim. “These informative sounds can also be detected by other organisms.”

It should make you wonder what your house plant says about you when you forget to water it or get a cat.

They were mostly tortured. what else would you call it? – plants with different stresses, then used machine learning (damn, I guess a.m eventually writing about AI) classify different response categories with up to 70% accuracy, such as too much water vs. too little. Even plants that are cut and thus die can still produce sounds, at least for a short period of time. They hypothesize that other plants, as well as insects, can “hear” and respond to sounds.

Ultrasonic sounds are thought to be produced by a process called cavitation, a well-known process in which fluctuations in fluid pressure create small bubbles that collapse and create shock waves. Its specific mechanism has not been identified.

The study mainly used tomato and tobacco plants, but other plants, including corn, wheat, grapes and cactus, were also found to emit the sounds. “We can distinguish between the sounds made by tomatoes and cigarettes, between tomatoes and cacti, and between sliced ​​and dried tomatoes, between slightly dry tomatoes and very dry tomatoes,” said Lilach Hadani, a professor at Tel Aviv University. Business Insider:.

“When these plants are in good condition, they produce less than one call per hour, but when stressed they emit much more, sometimes 30 to 50 hours,” says Professor Hadani. His team had previously shown that plants can “hear,” for example, when bees buzzing nearby produce more nectar.

“These findings could change our understanding of the plant kingdom, which until now has been considered almost silent,” the authors write. “Our results, which demonstrate the ability to distinguish between drought-stressed and drought-controlled plants based on plant airborne sounds, open an avenue of research in precision agriculture.”

Instead of fertilizing and watering on our schedule, plants can tell us exactly what they need, when.

It gets more interesting. “Even in a quiet field, there are actually sounds that we don’t hear, and those sounds carry information. There are animals that can hear these sounds, so there is a possibility that there is a lot of acoustic interaction going on,” explains Professor Hadani. “So now that we know plants make sounds, the next question is, ‘who can hear?’ We are currently studying the responses of other organisms, both animals and plants, to these sounds, and we are also investigating our ability to identify and interpret sounds in a fully natural environment.”

Not everyone is convinced that communication is happening. “Many sounds are made in the world that are not ‘intentional’ signals, but can nevertheless be heard and used by other organisms for their own benefit. So the concept of communication is really a challenge…does it have to be two-way to work and be seen as such?” Daniel Robert, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, said: CNN:. He was not involved in the research.

As to whether the sounds suggest that plants have “feelings” as we might think of them, “I don’t think we’re there yet,” admits Professor Hadani. “We cannot say that the plant feels stress and therefore makes sounds. It is possible that the sounds sound completely passive, like a physical process.”

All of this reminds me of the buzz a few years ago about the “Wood Wide Web,” a hypothesis that trees communicate with their roots through a network of fungi, though this remains controversial. The point, however, is that there is much more communication going on in nature than we realize. We used to think we were the only animal that communicated, we were the only social animal, the only tool-using animal, and all of that has been revealed. Now, if plants can scream, the lines between animal and plant become less clearly defined.

Likewise, the line between “us” and our microbiome is becoming very blurred. It has long been known that not only do the cells in our microbiome outnumber “our” cells, but their DNA vastly outnumbers ours. Who is “we” really?

Furthermore, our microbiome actively communicates with us not only in the gut (where the greatest numbers are), but also with the brain and other organs. At the very least, that communication affects our health, such as MS or depression. It turns out that cancer cells have their own microbiome (and mycobiome). More connections will be discovered, such as effects on inflammation, which may underlie heart disease and autoimmune disorders.

Unfortunately, we know more about what plants communicate with the world than what our microbiome communicates with us.

All this strengthens my belief that 21St century will be the century of biology, be it computing, industry or medicine. Yet we’re still slathering everything with antibiotics and wreaking havoc on our microbiome, with unknown (but likely dire) consequences.

So perhaps we need to do a better job of listening to plants and figure out what else in nature we need to pay better attention to. Our health may depend on it.

Kim is the former head of emarketing at Blues Masterplan, editor of the late and lamented Tincture.io, and now a regular contributor to THCB.

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