Pea Plants Can Gamble Despite Having No Brains, New Studies Found

First Posted: Jul 04, 2016 08:54 AM EDT

 They've perfected poker faces, so it seems to follow that plants also know how to gamble. It's true: pea plants, as it turned out, know how to gamble when faced with hard times.

In a new study, as reported by The New York Times, scientists say that plants also have the ability to be risk-takers. Lead author Efrat Dener, a master's student of environmental sciences at Ben-Gurion Univeristy of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel said that plants aren't actually as passive as people think them to be.

True, there are things that we know plants do, like bend toward sunlight and responding to humidity, but nobody ever thought them to be "dynamic strategists" until now. In their study, Dener and his colleagues found that plants vary their distribution of roots depending on the nutrient levels. In some tests, plants faced a choice between a pot with a steady supply of high nutrient levels and one with variable levels. They were risk-averse and grew most of their roots in the constant pot.

However, when faced between a choice of a dicey pot with variable nutrient levels and a pot with constant but very low amount of nutrient levels, plants gambled and sent out more roots in the variable pot.

The study, published on Current Biology, stated that this is the first demonstration of risk response in organisms without a nervous system. While it does not necessarily mean that they are intelligent, it does mean that they have a way of sensing or evaluating different conditions.

How brainless pea plants can evaluate risk is unclear, but DrHagai Shemesh from Tel-Hai College in Israel who also worked on the study said that they may be following simple rules, not reasoning, stating that despite not having a complex nervous system, plants can still have the ability to show complicated behavior.

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