"is it okay for us to research plants?". I mean my obvious answer was yes, plants are not living and breathing like humans, right?"
I remember sitting in an ethics lecture during my biomedical science days. To be honest, I was daydreaming just the tiniest bit; okay I admit it, it daydreamed a lot. I snapped back into the lecture only to hear "is it okay for us to research plants?". I mean my obvious answer was yes, plants are not living and breathing like humans, right? He followed on to ask "how do we know that plants don’t feel pain?". Well, I had never thought of it like that before. As humans, being at the top of the food chain, in all our wisdom, we have reduced plants to being inanimate objects, when they are in fact alive. Whilst I am sure my lecturer wasn’t being serious about the 'plants feeling pain theory', it did make me think about the complexity of plants, and how they have more similarities with us humans than we think. Plants have 3 major organs: the roots, the stem and the leaves. The roots of the plants are particularly important for the absorption of water and nutrients from the soil. Their cells are adapted so that they can soak up all the goodness that the soil has to offer through the roots. The roots are not only the absorption centre of the plant, but they are also essential for anchoring the plant so that it isn’t easily pulled up by the elements and things external to it. 2 systems run up and down the stem of the plant. These are the Xylem (transport water) and the phloem (transports sugar and minerals). I think of the xylem then the phloem like the tramlines we have on our roads in Manchester; the different forms of transport to flowing alongside each other. Gravity is incredibly humbling; especially when you are 20 something and a first-time ice skater. In the same way, the gravity that influences us, humans, it also has an effect on the transport of water and minerals from the bottom of the plant to the leaves, and wherever it is needed. So how does water climb up the stem? It all begins at the leaves. Water is evaporated from the leaves, and this creates tension that pulls the water up from the bottom to the top. Think of it like sucking a straw, as you draw up the fluid, you are generating a negative pressure which brings up more of the fluid. One cool thing about this mechanism is that the water molecules are essentially holding hands as they are scaling the walls of the xylem like they are some MI5 mission.
In the last blog post, we spoke about how human cells use glucose and oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water and the energy molecule ATP. Plants do a remarkably similar thing. They use water from the roots, along with carbon dioxide and light, to form glucose and oxygen in the process called photosynthesis. The products of photosynthesis are essential for human survival. Glucose is used by plants for energy it can be stored in the plant as starch. Sort of like rainy-day energy savings accounts for the plant. If you have ever eaten a carrot, parsnip or a potato, these are essentially the plant's energy stores. Luckily, unlike the film ‘the happening’, plants are not out to get us, well at least I think they’re not. These resilient buggers can spring up anywhere, in concrete, in the sea, even a hopeless battlefield. They have been fashioned and designed to adapt and to thrive. Let us be like the tree and make the most of what is around you, making sure you are grounding yourself in the right things (faith, love and hope), taking in the right things (what you read watch and listen to), and giving your energy to the right things. This is my ode to the plant; you are so photosynthesis!
See you on the next post.