Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Talking to your plants or playing music to them might not be just a hippy pastime.

Postdoctoral research fellow Monica Gagliano is reviewing research from the 1960s that looked at the effects of music and sound, including the human voice, on plants.

"Some of that research was not particularly rigorous and it was easy to discredit it," Dr Gagliano said. "It was labelled as hippy nonsense."

Dr Gagliano is an adjunct lecturer in the School of Plant Biology as well as contributing to research as a UWA postdoctoral fellow in the Centre for Evolutionary Biology and the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis.

Outside her research domain of tropical marine ecology, Dr Gagliano's personal interest in herbal medicine attracted her to the garden and the behaviour of plants.

"The physicists have it right," she said. "There is energy associated with everything. Light is energy and plants respond to it. I believe they also respond to the energy produced by sound. We humans project our own energy and I believe that plants also respond to people being in the garden and tending their plants."

Dr Gagliano said research over the past 10 years was more solid than that done in the last century.

"We know that plants recognise what is growing next to them. There is chemical communication between them. Plants can warn other plants of a predator by releasing a chemical, and the warned plants can release chemicals to make themselves unpalatable to the predator.

"It is very similar to plants reacting to the energy of light. If something is in the way of that energy, a plant will adapt by quickly growing taller to get more light.

"I think we might realise that plants are more sensitive than we think," she said. "They can't move to get away from predators or to take advantage of other situations, so their other senses adapt."

Dr Gagliano said Darwin suggested these sensitivities in plants. "But people didn't pay much attention until recently.

"Some of my colleagues have asked me if I think I am committing scientific suicide with these ideas, but I've gone out on a limb before and, as they say, fortune favours the bold.

"With the threat of climate change and our environment in crisis, it is time for courageous people to step up. This research could be integral to shift our perception of the environment and transform how we play within it."

Dr Gagliano is hoping to collaborate with Aboriginal researchers. "They have been using plants for thousands of years so I'm sure we can help each other."

She is running private weekend workshops combining the science and art of plants and has approached SymbioticA, UWA's Centre of Excellence in Biological Art. Scitech is also interested in her work. "I want to make a contribution," she said.

"I could just keep on doing my fish research and writing papers, but realistically this is not going to change the world!"

Published in UWA News , 25 July 2011


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