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Epigenetics: Understanding how plants can remember things

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From Sarah Laskow at Atlas Obscura:

Of the possible plant talents that have gone under-recognized, memory is one of the most intriguing. Some plants live their whole lives in one season, while others grow for hundreds of years. Either way, it has not been obvious to us that any of them hold on to past events in ways that change how they react to new challenges. But biologists have shown that certain plants in certain situations can store information about their experiences and use that information to guide how they grow, develop, or behave. Functionally, at least, they appear to be creating memories. How, when, and why they form these memories might help scientists train plants to face the challenges—poor soil, drought, extreme heat—that are happening with increasing frequency and intensity. But first they have to understand: What does a plant remember? What is better to forget? More.

No, this isn’t some “rocks have minds” idiocy. It seems more like an outgrowth of epigenetics:

In recent years, scientists have realized that the genome alone doesn’t determine an organism’s fate. There’s a whole world of epigenetic activity around DNA that impacts which stretches of code get expressed, or translated into action. Florigen turned out to be a tiny protein, too small for the techniques of Lang’s generation to identify. Even if they had found it, they would have been missing a key to the mystery of what makes biennials flower. Amasino’s generation, on the other hand, finally found the right level of activity—the epigenetic level—to see this process in action.

But then, when w thought “rocks have minds” was safely out of the way,

Even though they’re alive, we tend to think of plants as objects rather than dynamic, breathing, growing beings. We see them as mechanistic things that react to simple stimuli. But to some extent, that’s true of every type of life on Earth. Everything that lives is a bundle of chemicals and electrical signals in dialogue with the environment in which it exists. A memory, such as of the heat of summer on last year’s beach vacation, is a biochemical marker registered from a set of external inputs. A plant’s epigenetic memory, of the cold of winter months, on a fundamental level, is not so different.

Oh yes it is different. The plant is recording data for reuse. It is not thinking about what it is recording.

See also: What can we hope to learn about animal minds?

How plants see, hear, smell, and respond without animal sense organs


Latest consciousness theory: Rocks have minds

News, I came across a very interesting study on telomeres, non-coded region and epigenetic factors of stress related to absent fathers. Find this fascinating. Will be interesting to see how this type of research unfolds and if it stands up to rigorous review. Telemeres suffer and lose length over time due to stress, in young children who lose fathers, with higher percentage changes up to 40% difference in boys compared to girls. Published a few months ago in Pediatrics. It revolves around expression of SERT gene and serotonin levels. They measured differences of 5,000 children between 9-15yrs of age. I do not have access to the full paper behind paywall... Father Loss and Child Telomere Length
RESULTS: At 9 years of age, children with father loss have significantly shorter telomeres (14% reduction). Paternal death has the largest association (16%), followed by incarceration (10%), and separation and/or divorce (6%). Changes in income partially mediate these associations (95% mediation for separation and/or divorce, 30% for incarceration, and 25% for death). Effects are 40% greater for boys and 90% greater for children with the most reactive alleles of the serotonin transporter genes when compared with those with the least reactive alleles. No differences were found by age at father loss or a child’s race/ethnicity. CONCLUSIONS: Father loss has a significant association with children’s sTL, with the death of a father showing the largest effect. Income loss explains most of the association between child sTL and separation and/or divorce but much less of the association with incarceration or death. This underscores the important role of fathers in the care and development of children and supplements evidence of the strong negative effects of parental incarceration.

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