March 06, 2016: The Wall Street Journal: Mind & Matter: "Rigorous research shows that plants do indeed possess something resembling the defensive physiological response of humans. ... Now we have discovered that, in pursuit of their goals, plants can also count. ... Flytraps have rules: three or more hair deflections activate the genes that make dissolving enzymes; five or more activate nutrient uptake. ... So, flytraps have taken the first baby steps towards brains. ... The last shared common ancestor of animals and flytraps was some single-cell organism. Thus, incredibly, flytraps have independently evolved rudimentary nervous systems."
February 27, 2016: The Wall Street Journal: Frank Wilczek wrote an interesting article, titled "A Light Show of Thought", where he asks "Why is it so hard to accept, intuitively, that life and matter can emerge from matter?" He goes on to say that: "we have little or no immediate experience of how physical systems represent information."
And he adds: "Our brains store and manipulate information in patterns of electrical activation. Most neurobiologists accept that those patterns are the physical embodiment of mind". Now, could it be that plants, and in particular, trees, with their billions of chemical connections and reactions in their modular bodies may also have some form of consciousness?
March 29, 2016: The New York Times: Learning Curve: Plants Either Remember or Forget - According to Joanna Klein, in 2014 researchers at the Universe of Florence in Italy decided to see if they could train a plant to change behavior. They "chose Mimosa pudica (touch-me-not), which curls up in response to physical stimulation. Test plants in their pots were dropped onto foam from a height of about six inches to elicit the fliching response. After repeated exposure with no major harm, the plants no longer recoiled. Even after a month left alone, the plants "remembered" the falls weren't harmful and ignored them." But a review at the Australian National University last month suggested that the plants could be learning to forget, when it turns out that the threat does no harm. "Forgetting has a purpose: it allows the plants to save energy."
April 5, 2016: TechTimes.com: Danish scientists have recently anounced that they found a way to convert plants' biomass into fuel by applying "reverse photosynthesis". This is very exciting, due to the sheer volume of plants on Earth. Plants represent over 90% of all the planet's biomass and, being clean and renewable, this could mean a major step towards sustainable development. "There are many indications that bacteria and fungi actually reverse photosynthesis to access nutrients and sugar in plants."
April 19, 2016: Discovery News: Protecting the Environment by Eating Less Meat - Their recent article describes how studies show that if humans eat less meat this will mean less conversion of forests to croplands and that the area demand for agriculture would be drastically reduced. The researchers argue that human activities are responsible for reducing forests by 1/3 up to 50 percent. 2/3 is due to converting forests to pasture and 1/3 to coversion to croplands.
May 10, 2016: BBC News: State of the World's Plants - This is the title of a very interesting report just published by KEW - Royal Botanic Gardens, where they announce the first time a complete inventory of vascular plants have been compiled. There are about 391,000 vascular plants on Earth, and about 370,000 are angiosperms, or flowering plants. The study excludes algae, mosses, liverworts and hornworts. The scientists have dissected the data-bases of The International Plant Names Index, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and The Plant List in order to provide a broad vision and comprehensive assessment of the current state of world's plants. Here is the link for the full report:
May 17, 2016: The New York Times: Genetically Modified Crops Are Safe - According to a comprehensive new analysis by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, GMOs or genetically modified organisms are safe to eat and do not harm the environment. New techniques using genome-editing are blurring the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding. A previous report, released in 2010, found that genetic engineering had provided environmental and economical benefits to farmers. The latest report has found no evidence that GMO crops had contributed to an increase of cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, autism, celiac disease or food allergies. It also says there is no safety reason to label such foods, though it may be justified for the consumers' right to know.
August 13, 2016: The Economist: Cheating Death.
Or, anti-senescence at work.This provocative article highlights a few ways that humans are playing God or Tithonus to be. Bio-renovation or upgrading tissues using stem cells or growing organs from scratch are such techniques being developed, still in its infancy, but that could very well be widely used in not a very distant future. It's long known that longetivity run in certain families, which suggests that particular varieties of genes seem to prolong life. Modern gene-editing might one day be used to extend life by tweaking DNA of some people. But the ethical implications are very serious. Who gets it first?
April 25, 2016: BBC NEWS: Rise in CO2 Has "Greened" Planet Earth - A new study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change by 32 authors from 24 institutions and 8 countries showing that after 33 years of record taking the planet got greener by 25% to 50% on Earth's vegetation covered lands. This is slowing the pace of climate change, as the plants are drawing more CO2 from the atmosphere. But the lead author, Prof. Ranga Myeni, from Boston University, still claims that the positives may be outweighed by the negatives. To say that fertilization will diminish overt time does not change the equation. The increased uptake of CO2 was not properly accounted for by the IPCC - the International Panel on Climate Change published some time ago. The projected CO2 levels were too high, now it is known, implying that the global temperatures projected were also too high.The main contributing factor to the additional improvement is that plants are using extra CO2 generated by humans to fertilize their own growth.