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Analysis Of The Article “Smart Plants Can Teach Us A Thing Or Two” By Rachel Ehrenberg

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In the article “Smart plants can teach us a thing or two” by Rachel Ehrenberg it is explained that plants exhibit intelligence, however, it is not like how animals exhibit intelligence. Plants have the ability to learn and adapt to their immediate environment which leads Stefano Mancuso to continue the work of René Desfontaines to understand what makes plants so unique. Ehrenberg explained the importance of understanding plants and how plants evolve differently because unlike animals they cannot move. She suggests plants, could help us solve human problems by providing an alternative point of view.

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This relates to week 9 of the course material and chapter 25: evolution in the course textbook. The article helps us understand the uniqueness of plants and how adaptation is the key to what makes these plants special. They adapted differently from the animals around them. Plants are all around us and offer a different point of view to our problems. It is up to us to understand them and use their evolutionary success to help ourselves create better technology.

Main Idea

The article “Smart plants can teach us a thing or two” by Rachel Ehrenberg talks about Stefano Mancuso’s follow continuation of an experiment 200 years ago, where French botanist René Desfontaines rode around Paris in a carriage that contained Mimosa pudica plants with his student. They observed that Mimosa pudica would close its leaves when provoked so the experiment was to see how they react after extended exposure to the bumps in the road. Over time the plants got used to the bumps and would open their leaves even while on the carriage.

Mancuso provided the idea that just because plants do not have brains they may still have intelligence. Mancuso goes on to compare natural selection of both plants and animals. He proposed that animals evolve in such a way as to avoid problems because they can move away from them, whereas plants must endure and evolve to endure these problems because they cannot move. Mancuso repeated René Desfontaines’ experiment and came to this conclusion. Rachel Ehrenberg continues his thought in this article by stating that “Being anchored in one spot required that plants evolve entirely different solutions to short- and long-term threats like predators, fire and drought.” She proposes that understanding plants and the way they evolve can help provide solutions to human problems.

Relation to Course Content

This article related to chapter 25 in the textbook “Sciences: An Integrated Approach” by James Trefil and Robert Hazen. Chapter 25 is covered in week 9 of the course and covers evolution. In the text, they speak mostly about animals and natural selection and not plants. The text, however, does cover adaptation when it says “Natural selection also provides a mechanism for a species to change its traits in response to changes in the environment”. This quote can be related to how the plants eventually were okay with the carriage ride. Although the carriage ride would not have shown evolution, it shows how quickly things can adapt to their environment. This article can enhance how we look at the evolution of mankind and where we can gather answers to problems we have in our current lives.

Personal Question & Follow Up

I was never aware of a plant called the Mimosa pudica. What are they? According to Britannica, the genus Mimosa is a part of the pea family Fabaceae. The reason for their name is because some species “mimic” animal sensitivity. A majority of Mimosa species are herbs or under shrubs, well a few others are trees. A few species are light sensitive and may droop in darkness.

Significance & Personal Reflection

The significance of this article can be found in its problem-solving capabilities. Understanding that some species of plants can do more than just mimic animal intelligence is a huge step towards understanding how plant life thinks and how we can condition plants to perform better, whether on a farm for fruits & vegetables or in reforested areas. We could use this understanding of plants to help us determine how to improve plant growth without external influence on the plant, such as fertilizers. Also, the article referenced the idea that animals are designed to run away while plants have had to endure problems because they cannot move. Maybe looking at such evolutionary factors, such as plants that shoot seeds directly into the ground to ensure growth or plants that spray seeds into the air to allow seeds to travel further, would help us generate new technologies that mimic these evolutionary adaptations. A seed that is designed a certain way to ensure its growth may become our design to ensure space pods reach their destination without sustaining damage. There is no one right solution, It is highly valuable to have multiple examples of the ways in which different organisms solve fundamental biological problems”.

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