Plants Send SOS – And The Art of Learning

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The smell of fresh cut grass means very different things to  green plants vs to us humans.

The smell comes from a class of chemicals called Green-leaf Volatiles (GLV) which can protect the plant against predators. When the leaf of a  tobacco plant,  for example, is attacked by the tobacco hornworm, GLV is released  by the injured leaf and  is detected by another bug which has corresponding receptor molecules on its antennae. This carnivorous bug comes and feeds on the hornworm, saving the plant  (See link)

This type of chemical information exchange for survival is extremely important  throughout  the living world, including  humans. In us, there is a peptide-receptor network that is spread all through  the body, far more extensive  and carrying  tons more information than  our nervous system. An example is endorphin, which is produced during ‘runner’s high.’ It is a peptide (a very small protein molecule). When it attaches itself to its receptor on a cell’s surface, it will trigger the sensation of calm and euphoria – the effect of endorphin on us.

This chemical network is largely responsible for a type of learning and memory we call  implicit, or non-declarative, experiential learning, involving the bodily senses. It is also often non-conscious. ( For a discussion of this please see my  essay, Information = Knowledge?)

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