Dr. Clarence Swanton, plant researcher at the University of Guelph, is adventuring into the mystery of crop “communication” where few conventional plant physiologists have dared to document.
Until now, the seemingly paranormal behavior of botanical species has remained within the realm of unconventional authors like Christopher Bird and Peter Tompkins. They wrote books such as The Secret Life of Plants in 1973 and Secrets of the Soil in 1989. Most American university researchers avoided serious analytical study of this realm, a near-spiritual abyss which could swallow “scientific” careers. None of the phD-level plant physiology books on our Renewable farming bookshelves — like “Plant Physiology” by Taiz and Zeiger — venture outside the bounds of molecular-level formulas and ion exchanges.
On August 10, the conservative Weed Science Society of America published a description of Dr. Swanton’s exploration, headlined: “What Plants Sense and ‘Say’ May Impact the Future of Weed Control.”
It reflects a daring departure from today’s weed-killing mantra of finding a toxic molecule that the big chemical companies can patent and peddle. If we can somehow decode the “language” of how weeds and crops communicate, perhaps we could coax more production without poisoning the planet and ourselves.
Hopefully Dr. Swanton’s courage to quantify weed and crop behavior will be contagious, and someone will find a way to make this vein of science profitable for companies that market it to growers. To us, this isn’t a radical realm at all. We’ve been familiar with the sub-molecular medical science of homeopathy for more than 40 years. Only now have a few “conventional” scientists gained the computer power and sensing technology to measure and describe how the subtle energy fields of homeopathy communicate with biological systems. An example of that technology is research by British scientist Cyril W. Smith of Salford University. He has published many research reports on the subject. Here’s a link to just one of Smith’s reports, as delivered to the UK parliament.
Clearly, the fact that weeds “learn” how to survive one weedkiller toxin after another shows that the molecular mode of weed control is leading us down a dead end — at an accelerating rate. Glyphosate, which looked like a miracle at first and greatly simplified crop management, is apparently headed for the last roundup. Weeds develop immunity to diseases they’d normally contract after glyphosate chelates the trace elements needed for their metabolic Shikimate pathway.
Deeply exploring the realm of crop “communication” requires an intellectual framework well outside organic chemistry. It’s closer akin to quantum physics, a term given to that realm “out there” reserved for the Einsteins of our age. But the scientist doesn’t have to understand why something works; just that it does work. (Our WakeUP clients and competitors are still speculating just how colloidal micelles behave in crop metabolism. We just know that it works as a surfactant, cleanser and carrier of nutrients.)
Another innovative “plant communication” researcher, Jim Westwood of Virginia Tech, offers the example of how parasitic dodder “senses” how its hosts react. The Weed Science report linked above observes:
“Researchers knew from previous reports that dodder senses chemical signals given off by potential host plants and uses that information to grow towards them. But once dodder attaches itself to its host, the real fun begins. Messenger RNAs are exchanged between the plants and serve as a unique language that lets dodder and its host chat freely and potentially share large volumes of genetic information at the molecular level.
“What are they saying? Westwood says further research is underway to find out. He suspects, though, that dodder may have dastardly intent. The weed is likely telling host plants precisely how to lower their defenses so they can be more readily attacked, as well as how to produce more of the nutrients dodder needs to survive and thrive.
“If Westwood is right, finding a way to disrupt this messenger RNA dialogue might protect the host plant and cause parasitic plants to wither away.
That exchange of information could well be through non-chemical pathways. Look closely at Jim Westwood’s photo below of a tomato plant, entwined by dodder. If you visit the ACRES bookstore and pick up some books by Dr. Philip Callahan, you’ll better appreciate the functions of the fuzzy “antennae” on many plants. One good starting point is Callahan’s “Tuning in to Nature.” That book has been around more than 40 years.