Trees Communicate with Aspirin-Like Chemical
Photo via flickr by Daleberts
Plants in a forest respond to stress by producing significant amounts of a chemical form of aspirin, scientists have discovered. The finding, by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), opens up new avenues of research into the behavior of plants and their impacts on air quality, and it also has the potential to give farmers an early warning signal about crops that are failing.
“Unlike humans, who are advised to take aspirin as a fever suppressant, plants have the ability to produce their own mix of aspirin-like chemicals, triggering the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defenses and reduce injury,” says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, who led the study. “Our measurements show that significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures, or other stresses.”
For years, scientists have known that plants in a laboratory may produce methyl salicylate, which is a chemical form of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. But researchers had never before detected methyl salicylate in an ecosystem or verified that plants emit the chemical in significant quantities into the atmosphere.
Researchers had not previously thought to look for methyl salicylate in a forest, and the NCAR team found the chemical by accident. They set up specialized instruments last year in a walnut grove near Davis, California, to monitor plant emissions of certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These hydrocarbon compounds are important because they can combine with industrial emissions to affect pollution, and they can also influence local climate.
When the NCAR scientists reviewed their measurements, they found to their surprise that the emissions of VOCs included methyl salicylate. Karl and his colleagues speculate that the methyl salicylate has two functions. One of these is to stimulate plants to begin a process known as systemic acquired resistance, which is analogous to an immune response in an animal. This helps a plant to both resist and recover from disease.
The discovery raises the possibility that farmers, forest managers, and others may eventually be able to start monitoring plants for early signs of a disease, an insect infestation, or other types of stress. At present, they often do not know if an ecosystem is unhealthy until there are visible indicators, such as dead leaves.
The discovery also can help scientists resolve a central mystery about VOCs. For years, atmospheric chemists have speculated that there are more VOCs in the atmosphere than they have been able to find. Now it appears that some fraction of the missing VOCs may be methyl salicylate and other plant hormones. This finding can help scientists better track the impact of VOCs on the behavior of clouds and the development of ground-level ozone, an important pollutant.
In a conversation with Sputnik Observatory, artist Hiro Yamagata reveals how the frequency in which trees talk to each other is a calming energy:
Most of the people we test, we did testing over in Japan, most of the people in the deep forest, people get healing or calm or get energy because the tree to tree they release frequencies. They talk to each other. They communicate with each other. One piece I made for sensory system of the frequency captured and transferred through this sensory system to canvas walls. So you can see the visual, you cannot see the visual, but visualize a frequency.