Plants, They're Smarter Than You Think

Several things probably come to mind when you think about plants: green, life, oxygen, photosynthesis, trees - intelligence, more likely than not, is not one of them. Unless you're Stefano Marcuso, a professor of horticulture at the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology (LINV). He runs the only lab in the world dedicated solely to showing that plants are, in fact, intelligent entities.

It all depends, of course, on your definition of intelligence. "If you define intelligence as the capacity to solve problems, plants have a lot to teach us. Not only are they 'smart' in how they grow, adapt and thrive, they do it without neuroses. Intelligence isn't only about having a brain." Marcuso is particularly keen on exploring the possible contributions plants could make to our broader scientific knowledge. Two fields in which he and others see them playing a more prominent role moving forward are robotics and telecommunications. One project at the LINV is looking at ways of using plant-inspired robots - nicknamed "plantoids" - to explore other planets. The idea would be to drop mechanical "pods" on the Martian surface, for example, which would be able to communicate with a "stem" linked up to a data center on Earth.

So far the lab's nine researchers have published studies on topics as disparate as gravity sensing, the effects of music on vineyards and plant synapses. "Biometrics can provide some of the most inspiring resources for us. Solutions found by nature that might not seem related to real engineering problems at first sight actually are related and give technical solutions," said Leopold Summerer, advanced-concepts team coordinator at the European Space Agency, commenting on the research's potential future directions.

What's one area in which Mancuso thinks plants are better off than us humans? Communication. "Plants communicate via chemical substances. They have a specific and fairly extensive vocabulary to convey alarms, health and a host of other things. We just have sound waves broken down into various languages, I don't see how we could bridge the gap."

Via ::WIRED Science: Smarty Plants: Inside the World's Only Plant-Intelligence Lab (news website), ::3quarksdaily: Plant Intelligence (blog)

See also: ::Robotarium X: First Zoo for Artificial Life, ::Streetlight Intelligence: Creating Ecologically Brilliant Communities, ::The Future of Global Transport?

Tags: Ecology | Italy