Stress is a very common defense mechanism among animals. This allows them to react quickly in the face of imminent danger. In our case, already far from predators, we have exchanged the lion for our bosses, children or exams. Contrary to what is usually thought, stress can help us face complex situations in our daily lives, increasing our attention and productivity. But if this state is prolonged over time, it can mutate into the increasingly well-known “distress”, diminishing our abilities and leading, in more serious cases, to other physical ailments.
A group of experts from Tel Aviv University has carried out a study showing that this mechanism is not an exclusive condition of animals. Apparently, plants would also react to external stimuli, emitting sounds at frequencies that humans cannot hear. What is surprising is that their reaction could be aimed at communicating these dangers to other living things.which would imply a support mechanism between the different organisms of an ecosystem.
Thanks to this research, the team has managed to develop an algorithm that would make it possible to recognize the messages produced by different plantsresolving which is the triggering agent of stress and even the plant from which the signal comes.
A very different language
Perhaps they do not elaborate great philosophical debates, but it seems that the members of the plant kingdom have a lot to tell us. At least, as far as their survival is concerned. Despite the fact that studies had already been done on the reaction of plants to stress, this is the first time that it has been suggested that they could emit sounds to inform other organisms.
The results of the experiment, published this Thursday in the Cell magazine, show the reactions of plants to various external stimuli. In addition, in the article they present a new algorithm, thanks to which said sounds can be classified according to the reason for stress and the individual from which they come. The researchers studied the tobacco and tomato plants, since they are two fast-growing species.
To proceed with the experiment, they subjected the plants to two different stimuli. On the one hand, the complete suppression of water and on the other, the pruning of its branches. They set up some microphones near them with which they were able to record how, in the face of these stress agents, they began to emit ultrasound, inaudible to humans. However, these frequencies would be recognizable by other living beings, such as animals, insects or even other plants.
When the plants were exposed to dangerous conditions, it was detected that they emitted some particular clicks, reaching between 30 and 50 per hour at peaks of maximum stress. On the contrary, when they had all the needs covered, these sounds could hardly be perceived. Surprisingly, in the case of the plants that were dewatered, the signals began to occur before signs of dehydration were visible.
The sounds were recorded both in a quiet environment and in a greenhouse, where external noises mixed with plant interactions. Thanks to this, the team was able to train an artificial intelligence to recognize the differences between these messages. The new algorithm makes it possible to distinguish not only whether the plant is stressed or not, but also the factor that causes this loud reaction. In addition, a diversity of nuances has been observed between the messages produced by the different plants, allowing the machine to indicate whether it is a tomato plant or a tobacco plant.
With whom do plants communicate?
Although the experiment was carried out mainly on the tobacco and tomato plants, the researchers also made recordings on other plants such as corn, wheat, grapes or cactusobtaining the same results.
This way of communicating would help plants and other beings around them to make better decisions to preserve their survival. For example, a butterfly might decide not to lay its eggs on a flower that is about to dry up.
In addition, other researchers in the same group would have previously warned that plants reacted to external sounds. They observed how, in the presence of nearby pollinators, the plants increased the sugar levels in their nectar in order to attract them.
This new tool for identifying stress in plants would have potential applications in agriculture. By being able to monitor the hydration status of crops, we could distribute water more efficiently, even before the consequences were visible to the human eye.
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