Is it bollocks
Could The Happening actually happen?
q In M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 twister, the world’s plants club together to emit neurotoxins in order to make humans suicidal in a vegetation eco protest. Possible?
a Sir David Charles Baulcombe, FRS FmedS ci, Royal Society Research Professor and Regius Professor of Botany, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
Plants do communicate – they produce volatile compounds that transmit danger signals from one plant to its neighbour; “I am being eaten by an insect – make yourself unpalatable in case he moves across to you!” They also produce diffusible compounds that affect adjacent plants. Some plants, for example, produce compounds that inhibit weeds. They are also social – they are competitive and try to shade each other out, just like people. Some plants are cosmopolitan
– they prefer to breed only with different populations. Others are more xenophobic and they prefer to breed with their own kind.
Can plants adapt to release toxins to target specific threats? Yes. In one example they produce cyanide-like compounds. In the normal situation the precursors of the cynanide compounds are kept apart. Following attack by an insect, however, the compartment boundaries break down and the cyanide is produced. Many have irritants/toxins in hairs on the surface of the leaves that are released by gentle contact with humans (poison ivy etc.). And, of course, they produce starch
– the biggest killer. Michael Pollan [ author of The Botany Of Desire] has pointed out that corn has the upper hand in the symbiosis of maize and men. But no, they can’t make us commit suicide.