Pain in plants

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When we cut a tree, do you feel pain? Do we have to have regrets when we eat a vegetable salad?. These are questions that we cannot answer with the paradigms that concern us because of our animal condition. In the end the concept of pain is only definable from an emotional issue proper to the animal world.

Plants may have a similar emotion, but we do not know their physiological functioning. Why is simple. They do not have the cells or chemicals, nociceptors, which in the animal world we relate to pain. Therefore, we do not have to rely on cytology. We also know that pain is part of the evolutionary process in the animal world. In plants, pain may not be a survival factor like in the animal world. However, we can imagine that since one form or another, life carries emotions, in plants there are also emotions that we cannot grasp with our current scientific paradigm.

Plant cells are equipped with a myriad of molecular Sentinels capable of perceiving or capturing information about the environment (temperature variations, mechanical pressures, humidity, light, etc.). Molecular Biology has come a long way in this field and has shown that calcium ions are messengers in both plants and neurons. It has been found that at the least change in the environment of the plants a wave of clacian ions that invade the plant cytoplasm is released. “The amplitude and the frequency in which they move, these ions give us an idea of the nature of the signal,” explains Dr. Michel Thellier who has defined that these chemical messengers are the key model of the functioning of the memory of plant cells.

As if it were an ant colony, each plant cell termination behaves like a green ant that informs about the state of the environment to the rest and thus gestates a collective consensual response. This is where it can be said that a higher thought form emerges in the organism similar to that of a colony and capable of a self-organized system of collective behavior that surpasses the capacity of “individuals” or cells.

Plants surprise us at every step we keep investigating. At close range each cell has thousands of microcanals (20 to 40 nanometers in diameter). It is a network that exists only in plants, but allows optimal communication at distances of several millimeters, which is sufficient for communication between most of the nearest root terminations. But it is clear that communication between the end of a branch and the roots must exist other channels.

The latest research in this field shows us that the idea we had of the trunk structure of a plant, with the phloema and the xylema, is becoming obsolete. Thus, the “dead” cells of the xylema were considered as simply structural supports as a pipe to channel the water and minerals from the roots to the photosynthetic machines of the leaves. Today we begin to perceive that these channels serve the diffusion of chemical messages that inform the aerial part with the roots. In this case, simple variations in hydraulic pressure accurately inform the roots about the wind that hangs over the leaves.

In the opposite direction, the floema, which serves to pass the sap from the leaves to the roots also leads countless chemical messengers spreading electrical signals throughout the plant. Something not unlike what neural terminations and the nerve network do in an animal being. The transmission speed of an electrical signal in a plant moves in the phloem at speeds of 0.5 to 40 cm per second. Certainly a much lower speed than electric transmission in an animal, but it is also true that plant life has a much longer life span.

This vast, ultra-connected plant cellular network surmounted by hydraulic, electrical, or chemical signals is just as complex as that of the animal nervous system. It is precisely this reality that makes one think that plants “feel” like any living being. Biology is diving into elucidating which can be the bases to compare. But as some botanists claim, in reality, for animals plants are like extraterrestrials and therefore we often have more questions than answers at every step.

Plants also have regenerative capacity, which is exceptional in animals. So we may not hear the cry of a tree when we cut off a branch, but what may show us the pain suffered is the time it takes to regenerate the communicative structure that has just lost.

It is difficult to illustrate in a simple way what currently moves the interest of thousands of botanical researchers focused on plant neurology. However, it is interesting that for the first time we begin to look at plants as a complete living being and not merely a “vegetable”. Although this vision is still primitive is a major breakthrough, as if a metaphor would serve to assess what you have learned, this would not be very different from the approach to a language that is alien not based on the linguistic human as we are shown the movie The Arrival (2016) by Denis Villeneuve.

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