A new study published in Annals of Botany shows that plants react to anaesthetics similarly to the way animals and humans do, suggesting plants are ideal objects for testing anaesthetics actions in future.
Anaesthetics were first used in the 19th century when it was discovered that inhaling ether gas stopped patients feeling pain during surgery. Since then many different chemicals have been found to induce anaesthesia. However, despite the fact that many anaesthetics have been used over a 150-year period, little is known about how these different compounds with no structural similarities behave as anaesthetic agents inducing loss of consciousness.
Remarkably, as found in the new study, anaesthetics also work on plants. Researchers found that, when exposed to anaesthetics, a number of plants lost both their autonomous and touch-induced movements. Venus flytraps no longer generate electrical signals and their traps remain open when trigger hairs were touched, and growing pea tendrils stopped their autonomous movements and were immobilised in a curled shape.
The results of this study suggest that the action of anaesthetic at cellular and organ levels are similar in plants and animals. This study suggests that plants are emerging as model objects to study general questions related to anaesthetics, as well as to serve as a suitable alternative test system for human anaesthesia.
Reference: K Yokawa, T Kagenishi, A Pavlovič, S Gall, M Weiland, S Mancuso, F Baluška. Anaesthetics stop diverse plant organ movements, affect endocytic vesicle recycling and ROS homeostasis, and block action potentials in Venus flytraps. Annals of Botany, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcx155