Although we still don’t know how exactly anaesthetics work, when somebody mentions them the first thing that comes to our minds is pain relief. However, there is much more behind these complex chemical compounds.
There is a range of chemicals that can lead to anaesthesia in humans but how these unrelated compounds cause a lack of consciousness remains unclear.
What’s more interesting is that not only humans and animals are affected by anaesthesia, but surprisingly plants as well.
Back in ancient times, humans used all kinds of herbs for various sedative purposes. The use of modern anaesthesia started in mid-19th century, after physicians began using diethyl ether on patients during surgical procedures. After a few decades, scientists found out that plants are similarly affected by this substance and Claude Bernard, a French psychologist, concluded that animals and plants actually share a common biological essence that can be disrupted by using anaesthetics.
After more than a century, even nowadays, scientists are still trying to figure out this strange commonality.
Recently a team of Japanese and European scientists filmed a number of plants that exhibit the phenomenon of rapid plant movement to see what kinds of anaesthetics affected them.
These sensitive plants (Mimosa pudica) respond to touch by closing their leaves, but when exposed to diethyl ether they completely lost their response and became motionless. Their movement returned back to normal after 7 hours.
Similar to this, the plant Venus flytrap (or Dionaea muscipula) couldn’t close its trap after being exposed to diethyl ether. However in this case, the plant recovered in just 15 minutes.
Cape sundew (Drosera capensis), another carnivorous plant, is known for its sticky tentacles on the leaves that help with capturing the prey. When exposed to ether, the plant lost its abilities to bend both the leaves and the tentacles.
Researchers have a hypothesis that these unusual behaviors have something to do with the inhibition of action potentials, preventing electrical impulses that help plants’ biological systems function.
“[B]ioelectricity and action potentials animate not only humans and animals but also plants. That animals/humans and also plants are animated via action potentials is of great importance for our ultimate understanding of the elusive nature of plant movements and plant-specific cognition/intelligence based plant behaviour”, the researchers explain.
According to them these similarities between plants and animals could lead to future research where plants might function as substitutes of animals in exploring human anaesthesia, something scientists are still pretty uncertain about.