Anesthetics for Plants
January 5, 2018 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Just like humans, plants known for their movement (venus fly trap, mimosa, sundew) can succumb to the effects of general anesthesia. The finding is striking for a variety of reasons—there’s the pesky fact that plants lack a central nervous system. Reported in the Annals of Botany.
posted by ShooBoo (32 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is one of those little things that makes me wonder further if we're in a simulation, and these chemicals are the equivalent of debugging tools.

We are just *so different* from plants, yet to see the same substance work as an anesthetic on both... it just feels so utterly wrong.
posted by evilangela at 12:49 PM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is so weird!
posted by tobascodagama at 12:57 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


We’re still in the first week of January but I’m calling this the paper of the year.
posted by Jimbob at 1:18 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interesting. It appears that anesthetics work on some very old pathways. I noticed that they us3d 15% ether is n their study. That’s about 5 times the dose needed to anesthetize a person. I hope the carnivorous plants they used were from greenhouses and not poached from the wild.
posted by TedW at 1:23 PM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


COOL
posted by blue t-shirt at 1:32 PM on January 5, 2018


Wow!
posted by dhruva at 1:45 PM on January 5, 2018


Fascinating article and I learned that after 100 years of use on people, we don't actually understand how anesthesia works. We just know that it does.
posted by COD at 1:55 PM on January 5, 2018


Yes, from the New Yorker article just a few FPP's down:

But even as they operate the machinery of anesthesia with great skill, anesthesiologists remain uncertain about the drugs’ underlying mechanisms. “Obviously we give anesthetics and we’ve got very good control over it,” one doctor tells Cole-Adams, “but in real philosophical and physiological terms we don’t know how anesthesia works.” The root of the problem is that no one understands why we are conscious. If you don’t know why the sun comes up, it’s hard to say why it goes down.
posted by The Bellman at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2018 [9 favorites]


The shy mimosa folding up is amazing.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 2:28 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hmm... if anesthesia is about loss of consciousness, and anesthesia affects plants...

nooooooooooooooooooo
posted by blue t-shirt at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


nooooooooooooooooooo

Fun fact: if plants could scream, that's the sound you'd hear every time you walked across grass!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


I recognize that for a lot of people the innate desire to believe the living beings we destroy can't feel anything is enough to use the lack of proof of consciousness as proof of a lack of consciousness- but yet it still surprises me anyway, that anyone is surprised at the idea of plant consciousness. If anything, it would be the default to assume any living being senses it's existence. It would be far more surprising that these beings have fought for survival for millions of years and can't even sense they exist or even care if they do or not. That would be surprising.
posted by xarnop at 3:34 PM on January 5, 2018 [19 favorites]


This is one of the silliest papers on anesthesia that I can recall. I can only hope that they go on to define the MAtmosphericC of isoflurane in venus flytraps so that I can use that factoid at cocktail parties.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:46 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


Can I get funding to give plants some MDMA and see if they dance to electronic music?

Also, I've had general anesthesia twice and both times I felt like my mind had been replaced by an identical mind. Hard to explain, but a very real feeling that lasted for months.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 4:09 PM on January 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


Caring implies a level of self awareness that even many humans appear to lack. That said, plants certainly do communicate with each other and respond to external stimuli, carnivorous or not. I've read that plants that have light sensing organs use similar chemical pathways to signal its presence as humans do, which makes sense. It also makes sense that anaesthesia would interrupt those signals in any organism that uses them. It neither implies nor refutes the idea that plants have a sort of rudimentary consciousness.
posted by wierdo at 4:55 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


I want to know what substances the scientists were "experimenting" with when they goth the idea to try this, because that is some left field shit right there.
posted by Dr. Twist at 5:09 PM on January 5, 2018


With the benefit of a time machine this could have made for a great 9th grade science fair project. I had the Venus fly trap, I had the ether. But so would have the time machine, I guess.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:15 PM on January 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


Wasn't that other thread on anesthetics saying that anaesthisia is about not remembering, not committing experiences to long-term memory? We know that some plants have shown themselves capable of memory. I wonder if it might be more fruitful to have a conversation about plants and anaesthesia and memory, which is maybe a little more specific than consciousness.
posted by aniola at 6:36 PM on January 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


This has Ig Nobel Prize written all over it. It's also really interesting science!
posted by clawsoon at 6:39 PM on January 5, 2018


We are just *so different* from plants.

We share highly conserved classes of proteins with E. coli, which are not just single celled but friggin' prokaryotes. Having ion channel signaling pathways conserved between us members of the relatively tight-knit eurkaryotic family isn't something I knew but it is not perhaps that bizarre.

Of course it could also turn out to be a totally unrelated pathway that just coincidentally has a vaguely similar visible effect.

I recognize that for a lot of people the innate desire to believe the living beings we destroy can't feel anything is enough to use the lack of proof of consciousness as proof of a lack of consciousness- but yet it still surprises me anyway, that anyone is surprised at the idea of plant consciousness.

There are some interesting discussions along those lines (possibly getting more interesting as more states legalize pot) but it quickly gets into a matter of semantics. I certainly wouldn't call plants conscious, even if they exhibit chemical reactions to stress. I admit I draw a very arbitrary line, but rocks and metals for example also react to their environment so you're drawing a line somewhere . . . .
posted by mark k at 7:19 PM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


PhD Thesis Proposal: Are Cannabis plants always high?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2018 [21 favorites]


I admit I draw a very arbitrary line, but rocks and metals for example also react to their environment so you're drawing a line

Unless you're a panpsychicist: then you figure rocks and things are at least conscious of themselves in the sense they keep track of how many of themselves there are, solving the identity problem and explaining object persistance without requiring a universal state machine. Objects at least behave as if they are conscious of their own states at a basic level you might call an awareness or consciousness...
posted by saulgoodman at 9:02 PM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you take the right kind of rock and wash it with the right sequence of chemicals, and then illuminate it at the right time withe the right pattern of light you end up with a thinking rock. You have to send electrical, or possibly optical, signals at it at the right points and in the right sequence, but such rocks can accomplish a variety of tasks that were once reserved for elite members of human society.

Perhaps there are other, naturally occurring arrangements of minerals that result in a recognizable approximation of human consciousness.

In conclusion, panpsychism is a profoundly sensible philosophy once you understand Turing.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:17 PM on January 5, 2018 [12 favorites]


If you sit still long enough, and you can count enough grains of sand, sometimes you can see the beach thinking.
posted by loquacious at 10:06 PM on January 5, 2018 [11 favorites]


I sent this to my dad, who a few decades ago discovered that glass sponges could propagate electrical signals to control their behaviour/movements (water siphoning), even though they don't actually have nerves. You can stop a sponge's electrical propagation with a calcium channel blocker, e.g. nimodipine - it'd be cool to know if you could etherize a sponge. Sponges are widely seen as the most basal of animals, it would be interesting if they shared ion channel physiology with plants.
posted by Rumple at 10:34 PM on January 5, 2018 [12 favorites]


The Happening is so happening.
posted by fairmettle at 11:40 PM on January 5, 2018


And a recent revelation from Germany:

Mr. Wohlleben has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news — long known to biologists — that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.


I heard an interview with Mr. Wohlleben on NPR. He said that trees know we hug them but are so slow to respond that we don't detect it. For trees, we are like tiny mosquito zipping around at highly accelerated speeds.
posted by waving at 3:38 AM on January 6, 2018 [9 favorites]


In other words, the trees think we're too hasty?
posted by tobascodagama at 6:31 AM on January 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


known as the “Wood Wide Web”

Even slow claps seem much too fast for trees, but still, you've earned that one.
posted by Drastic at 9:14 AM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just try saying wood wide web without cracking a smile. Can't.
posted by waving at 1:02 PM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


I do wonder if plants are showing a blunter type of mechanism than animals do -- if plants are getting a "stuff gets into your lipids and mucks them up" effect, the way we used to think anesthetics work on us.

☞ I'd love to see somebody try flurothyl alongside ether! Flurothyl is ether with fluorines tagged on it, which doesn't much affect its physical lipid properties but does turn it from an anesthetic into a convulsant. What is flurothyl in plants?
☞ Another cute probe would be the two mirror images of etomidate. These have the same chemistry but one is an anesthetic and the other is inactive. How about in plants?

Animals appear to have some very receptor-like entity that can show asymmetry and what looks a lot like "blocks the receptor" antagonist behavior. If plants seem to have similar mechanics, then that's anesthesia all right, and that's darn cool. If it's a more general "mucked-up lipids", then I don't know if I'd call it anesthesia.

But it might actually turn out even more cool, if it lets us identify a general mechanism and possibly help us tease out one of multiple mechanisms acting in animal anesthesia?

[I'd also be super-curious to see if plants show anesthesia reversal under pressure, though AFAIK we don't understand that enough in animals to know just what to conclude about plants from it.]
posted by away for regrooving at 1:42 AM on January 7, 2018 [6 favorites]


This makes me remember how people didn't use to believe animals had emotions, and now they're starting to believe plants have emotions. I wonder what's next on the line of believing certain lifeforms have emotions --. . . I look forward to our robot overlords.
posted by RoboticForest at 3:10 AM on January 17, 2018


« Older The National Dividend   |   Ring ring, banana phone Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments