It is easy for us to walk by a tree or other plants, admire their beauty, then move on, unaware that the plants are aware of everything that happens around them. We can't see evidence of that awareness, so it's easy to assume it doesn't exist.
A group of Japanese scientists decided to find out what kind of awareness and response to their environment that plants really have. According to a January 16, 2024 Yahoo News article written by Bryan Ke, the scientists were able to film plants communicating with each other. The plants warned each other about potential dangers going on at that moment. The findings were first published in the journal Nature Communications in October 2023.
Molecular biologist Masatsuga Toyota of Japan's Saitama University led the research team that captured the plants communicating on film. The national university is located in the city of Saitama in the Greater Tokyo area. The team photographed undamaged plants sending warnings to nearby plants. These defense responses occurred after the plants sensed volatile organic compounds (VOC) produced by plants when they experience mechanical damage or attacks by insects.
The team captured the plants' responses on film by attaching an air pump to a container that was filled with leaves and caterpillars and to another container holding a common weed from the mustard family called Arabidopsis thaliana. The team managed to genetically modify the Arabidopsis so that its cells turned fluoresce green after they detected calcium ions that act as stress managers. Team members used a fluorescence microscope to monitor signals that the undamaged plants released after they received VOCs from the damaged leaves.
The team's accomplishment is impressive because it films what had been an unseen network of airborne communication between plants. Purpose of the network is to warn neighboring plants about an imminent threat so they have time to protect themselves.
The team's work is a breakthrough after a 1983 study in which plant communication was first observed. Ever since then, scientists had wondered how the communication actually happened. With the filmed evidence, they know that plants are aware of dangers around them and spread that information to each other. It makes us more aware that plants have the ability to network with each other, to care about each other, and to develop a warning system that helps to keep each other safer.
Sometimes we might think that only humans have that kind of ability, but the film project has the potential to change the way we view plants. On some level, we all have the capacity to care about each other and to want to keep each other safe.