UBC scientist feeds plants anti-depressants to find intelligence
Susan Murch (right) examines a wine grape root-stock as part of her research to uncover plant intelligence. (UBC PHOTO)
A University of B.C. scientist has been feeding plants anti-depressants to determine if the foliage can be “intelligent” in their own way.
Okanagan campus chemistry professor Susan Murch said on Wednesday the idea of intelligence in plant life dates back to Charles Darwin when questions such as “how does a plant know if it’s light or dark?” were first raised.
It was again brought up a decade ago, she said, by a professor in Europe who questioned how scientists had always assumed plants to be unintelligent in conducting experiments — meaning a large spectrum of potential tests were previously ignored by the scientific community.
Murch knows some grape vines, for example, possess human neurotransmitters and produce melatonin and serotonin — chemicals humans produce for sleeping and waking up, respectively. How the plants use the chemicals is still unknown.
She conducted tests using 30 anti-depressants on the plants with confounding results.
Prozac, for example, thickened root transportation cells — which bring nutrients from the soil to the plant. Ritalin similarly thickened root storage cells, which store and hold those same nutrients. It’s unclear why.
“It’s a more difficult type of study,” she said. “Plants don’t have blood systems or easy ways to sample them. In the process of taking samples you can artificially skew results.”