Basal Cognition in Living Cells

Basal Cognition in Living Cells

Flatworms called planaria live in the muck of lakes and ponds worldwide. Scientists are intrigued by the fact that if you tear the worm in half, its head will grow a new tail, and its tail will grow a new head, giving you two worms. A new field of science involves the study of basal cognition in living cells outside of the brain.

Many years ago, I was involved with a project that attempted to fight the presence of invasive lampreys in the Great Lakes. Lampreys are eel-like fish that swim up tributary rivers to spawn. We placed barriers on streams to catch and kill the lampreys. The problem was that those who worked the lamprey traps were told to cut the eels in half and throw them back in the river to avoid the stink and mess of dead eels on land. They didn’t understand that returning the eels to water doubled their population because both halves survived.

In the case of the planarian, researchers at Tuft University found that the worm not only survived, but the tail contained previous memory. Both the head and tail of the worm remembered the location of a food source learned before the worm was cut in half. Michael Levin at Tufts has shown that cells can use subtle changes in electric fields as a kind of memory. This basal cognition in living cells works using electrical signals in animals and plants.

Scientists have found basal cognition in the Venus flytrap and the touch-me-not plant. The touch-me-not leaves will fold and wilt if touched to prevent being eaten. Scientists found that if the plant is jostled throughout the day without being hurt, it will learn to ignore jostling. The Venus flytrap can count, snapping shut only if two of the sensory hairs on its trap are tripped in rapid succession. It pours digestive juices into the closed trap only if sensory hairs are tripped three more times.

RNA seems to be a medium of memory storage for cells. Taking RNA from a slug that had experienced an electric shock and injecting it into a new slug causes the new slug to recoil from the touch that preceded the shock in the old slug.

This research shows that intelligence does not always require a brain but is wired into all living things and is vital to all life. The practical use of these discoveries of bioelectricity may help treat cancer where cells are not cooperating with the rest of the body. God’s design of life is far more highly engineered than anyone suspected. We have a lot to learn about basal cognition in living cells.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Minds Everywhere” in Scientific American for February 2024, pages 44-51.

Plants use Magnetism

Plants use Magnetism

One area of constant scientific investigation is the involvement of magnetism in living things. Studies have shown that cattle can align themselves with Earth’s magnetic field. Magnetism seems to be used by some animals in migrations. The presence of magnetism in the human brain has led to research into what that magnetism does and how medical science can use it to treat certain diseases. In addition to animals, plants use magnetism.

Scientists have found that magnetism plays a role in the survival of some plants. For example, the Venus flytrap uses jaw-like leaves to trap insects. Scientists have been mystified by what causes the “jaws” to close. However, it appears that stimulation from prey produces a small magnetic field which triggers the “jaws” to snap shut.

Studies have shown that other plants use magnetism by generating magnetic fields, including a bean and a single-celled alga and bacteria. This magnetic ability seems to be built into the plants for highly specialized functions. Thus, God’s design for every living thing is both subtle and complex.

Science is just beginning to understand how plants use magnetism. As we have said before, that Earth’s magnetic field has reversed in the past. We are far from understanding the many ways such a reversal could have affected life on this planet.

Realize that magnetism in a living plant requires ferromagnetic materials to be built into the plant. Those magnetic materials would serve no other purpose than to allow the plant to use magnetism somehow. Everywhere we look in the natural world, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: National Geographic, September 2021, page 19.

Plants Spread Their Seeds

Plants Spread Their Seeds - Sandbox Tree
Plants use a wide range of methods to spread their seeds. Some plants have seeds encased in a shell or a fleshy bundle that various animals, including humans, like to eat. We are all familiar with nuts and fruits, but the basic design of these foods is to spread their seeds. We live in an area where poison ivy is a real nuisance, and getting rid of it this year won’t stop it from being a problem next year because birds eat the berries on the plant and replant the ivy all over our property. For good or bad, plants spread their seeds.

In our front yard, we have maple trees, and we all know about the helicopters that maple trees produce. We have cottonwood trees which have white flocculent packets that drift across the landscape carrying their seeds with them. We also have several plants with seeds encased in a bundle with barbs that stick to our clothes. Plants spread their seeds by many methods working together to make our world green and able to support a host of animal life.

Plants that shoot their seeds use one of the most interesting methods of seed disbursal. The seed pod in the picture is from the sandbox tree (Hura crepitans) nicknamed “the dynamite tree” because of the explosive way the pods burst open. In the segments of the pod, the outer and inner layers grow at different speeds. This creates tension as the surfaces push against each other. When the seeds are ready, the pressure becomes so great, that the capsule explodes. The sections that were initially convex rapidly flip to concave in a process known to engineers as snap-buckling. That explosion can shoot the seeds 100 feet (30 m) at speeds of 160 miles (257 km) per hour.

Some of us remember “jumping disks” we had as children. Two metals were fused together with the metals having different coefficients of linear expansion. If you rubbed the side of the disk with your finger making it hot, it would expand, and you could bend it, so the disk had tension produced and held by the expanded metal. As the disk cooled, it would eventually snap back to its original shape, causing it to jump into the air.

Scientists have tried since the time of Charles Darwin, who had a fascination with the Venus flytrap, to understand how a plant with no muscles could shoot seeds or snap closed to trap insects. It has only been in the last 20 years that high-speed cameras which can take 10,000 frames per second have allowed researchers to understand how this incredible design works.

Measurements of snapping plants show a g-force of 2400. Fighter pilots can handle about nine gs before passing out. A wide variety of designs allow plants to shoot seeds or snap shut to trap food. The American dwarf mistletoe uses a chemical heat system that explodes seeds. The wild petunia has 20 disk-shaped seeds in hooks. When the seed pod gets wet, it splits and launches the seeds like Frisbees, but much faster with revolution rates of nearly 100,000 rpm. The Venus flytrap apparently uses an electrical signal, but scientists are still studying it to learn exactly how it works.

Plants spread their seeds by many amazing mechanisms God has built into them, and which scientists are still trying to understand. Even more amazing is the complexity of the life-support systems on Earth that allow us to exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on his topic, see “Physics of Rapid Movement in Plants” in Europhysics News
and a wonderful article “Meet the Speedsters of the Plant World” in Science News