If your New Year's resolution was to watch what you eat, you are almost definitely consuming a lot more salads. Remembering to add spinach and kale to everything may be tedious, but you know it will be worth it in the long run. Besides, the Kardashians do it pretty much every day, so it can't be all that bad, right?
Plant-based diets seemed to all the rage these days and the trend doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon. Everywhere you look, vegan and vegetarian restaurants are popping up at an incredible rate, as the public becomes increasingly conscious about what they are choosing to consume.
On top of that, major establishments are starting to appeal to audiences that don't want anything to do with meat, releasing reasonably priced plant-based options that seem to be shifting the culture towards a vegan-friendly lifestyle. Essentially, Veganism seems to be reaching new heights and is totally the 'in' thing right now.
However, a new study may stop this amazing growth in its tracks, as apparently, plants can hear themselves being eaten. This study, seemingly taken right from the screenplay of the movie 'Sausage Party', has found that plants can identify sounds in their environment and react accordingly with complex defence mechanisms.
Researchers at the University of Missouri discovered that plants, upon hearing the crunch of a caterpillar devouring their leaves, release mustard oils, which are unappealing to caterpillars and warn them off.
Heidi Appel, of the Bond Life Sciences Center, said: "Previous research has investigated how plants respond to acoustic energy, including music. However, our work is the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration."
She continues, "We found that ‘feeding vibrations’ signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars." Is it just me, or does this sound like a David Attenborough voiceover away from being an epic scene on Planet Earth III?
The study looked at the Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, subjecting it to the chewing of a caterpillar. The researchers then used tiny lasers to measure the plant's movement and response to the chewing.
On top of using live caterpillars, Appel and her team would also play recordings of caterpillar feeding vibrations to one set of plants and only silence to another. When the caterpillars were then let loose on both sets of plants, those which had been previously exposed to the feeding vibrations produced more mustard oils than the ones who hadn't.
They concluded that "what is remarkable is that the plants exposed to different vibrations, including those made by a gentle wind or different insect sounds that share some acoustic features with caterpillar feeding vibrations did not increase their chemical defences. This indicates that the plants are able to distinguish feeding vibrations from other common sources of environmental vibration."
In light of this new information, it will be interesting to see how the plant consuming community reacts. Granted the leaves studied aren't necessarily at the top of the consumption list, but it does beg the question that other plants might be able to do the same thing. I hope you all like mustard.