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PLANTS THAT GIVE OFF ALARM SIGNALS
Plants By Design


Nearly everyone imagines that plants are unable to combat danger, which is why they easily become fodder for insects, herbivores, and other animals. Yet research has shown that on the contrary, plants use amazing tactics to repel, even overcome their enemies.
To keep leaf-chewing insects at bay, for example, plants sometimes produce noxious chemicals and in a few cases, chemicals to attract other predators to prey on those first ones. Both tactics are no doubt very clever. In the field of agriculture, in fact, efforts are going on to imitate this very useful defense strategy. Jonathan Gershenzon, researching the genetics of plant defenses at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, believes that if this intelligent strategy can be imitated properly, then in the future, non-toxic forms of agricultural pest control could be provided. 1
When attacked by pests, some plants release volatile organic chemicals that attract predators and parasitoids, which lay their eggs inside the living body of pests. The larvae which hatch out inside the pest grow by feeding on

Geocoris

the pest from within. This indirect strategy thus eliminates harmful organisms that might damage the crop.

Again, it is by chemical means that the plant realizes that a pest is eating its leaves. The plant gives off such an alarm signal not because it “knows” it’s losing its leaves, but rather as a response to chemicals in the pest species’ saliva. Although superficially, this phenomenon appears to be quite simple, actually quite a number of points need to be considered:

1)  How does the plant perceive chemicals in the pest's saliva?
2)  How does the plant know that it will be freed from the pest's ravages when it gives off the alarm signal?
3)  How does it know that the signal it gives off will attract predators?
4)  What causes the plant to send its signal to insects that feed on its assailants?
5)  That signal the plant gives off is chemical, rather than auditory. The chemicals employed by insects have a most complex structure. The slightest deficiency or error in the formula, and the signal may lose its efficacy. How is the plant thus able to fine-tune this chemical signal?

Manduca moth caterpillar

No doubt it is impossible for a plant, lacking a brain, to arrive at a solution to danger, to analyze chemicals like a scientist, even to produce such a compound and carry out a planned strategy. Very definitely, indirectly overcoming an enemy is the work of a superior intelligence. That intelligence’s possessor is God, Creator of the plants with all their flawless characteristics and Who inspires them to do what they can to protect themselves.

Therefore, current biomimetic research is making a great effort to imitate the astonishing intelligence that God displays in all living things.

One group of researchers, from both the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya and Britain's Institute of Arable Crops Research, carried out a study on this subject. To remove pests among maize and sorghum, their team planted species that the stem-borers like to eat, pulling the pests from the crop. Among the crops, they growed species that repel stem-borers and attract parasitoids. In such fields, they found, the number of plants infested with stem-borers dropped by more than 80%. Further applications of this incomparable solution observed in plants will make for still further advances. 2

Wild tobacco plants in Utah are subject to attack by caterpillars of the moth Manduca quinquemaculata, the eggs of which are a favorite food of the bug Geocoris pallens. Thanks to volatile chemicals that the tobacco plant releases, the G. pallens is attracted, and number of M. quinquemaculata caterpillars is reduced. 3

References:

) John Whitfield, “Making Crops Cry For Help,” Nature, April 12, 2001, p. 736-737.
2) Ibid.
3) Ibid.

 
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