The mutualistic relationship between the acacia plant and a certain species of ant is fascinating: the plant produces an addictive chemical substance that attracts a certain species of ant, and the ant survives off this substance while providing protective benefits for the plant. As another example of the amazing ways in which plants leverage chemicals to their advantage, tomato plants that are overeaten by caterpillars have the ability to produce chemicals that induce cannibalism in caterpillars. How do plants know to respond in these ways? How do they know which chemicals to produce and when to produce them in order to protect themselves in these ingenious ways? According to Dr. Frantisek Baluska from the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Botany at the University of Bonn in Germany, the answer is that plants have a rich mental life that is far more complex than previously thought. Although there is a growing body of research that suggests a form of true plant cognition, mainstream science still largely reserves words such as ‘sentient’, ‘intelligent’, and ‘problem-solving’ for humans only. But Dr. Baluska argues that plants are masters of chemistry and that this mastery indicates the presence of complex cognitive mechanisms similar to those found in the human nervous system. Dr. Baluska discusses a range of topics—all of which are the perfect mix of intriguing and informative, leading you into the world of the masters of chemistry.
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