Paddy fields swaying to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata? Yes, that’s what researchers from the National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology in Suwon, South Korea, discovered when they blasted classical music over rice fields. Sounds at frequencies of 125Hz and 250Hz — like that of The Moonlight Sonata — made plant genes more active than sounds at 50Hz. The research, published in last week’s New Scientist, could enable farmers to switch specific genes on and off to make crops flower at will, or grow more quickly to a so la ti!
We know that plants respond to stimuli like light, wind and soil nutrients. German physicist Gustav Theodor Fechner first suggested in 1848 that plants also ‘feel’ and ‘emote’. Later, Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose identified the sensitive nervous systems of plants, which prompted them to respond to shocks — just like animal muscles. Bose also found that plants grew more quickly when exposed to pleasant music, and slowly amid harsh sounds.
Curiously, besides their musical taste, plants actually communicate — chemically — with one another, too. For instance, research shows that spider mites let loose on lima bean plants, prompt the injured plants to release a chemical that changes their flavour, making them inedible to the mites. The plants then release more chemicals that drift away to other plants, triggering the same defensive mechanism before the mites even reach them. Scientists believe this is the plants’ way of screaming, “I’m being attacked!” Amazingly, some of these chemicals attract a whole new batch of mites that, rather than eating the plants, prefer to eat the mites attacking them! This kind of signalling seems to exist throughout the plant kingdom. Agricultural scientists could some day genetically engineer these floral defences into crops to reduce the need for chemical pesticides. Because plants could then lure natural predators at will to kill off pests. Maybe Prince Charles — who talks to plants — should start ‘listening’ to them!