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posted by martyb on Tuesday April 29 2014, @09:46AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the hiding-from-Tarzan dept.

A woody vine, Boquila trifoliolata, has been discovered in Chile that has the amazing ability to change the shape of its leaves depending on what tree it is climbing. Further, the same single vine can drape different species of tree, and it will match the shape and size of its leaves to those of each host, but only along that portion of its length.

Other vines are known to mimic one species of host, as a defense against herbivores, but this vine can mimic many, along its length. Biologists say "It is unclear how B. trifoliolata vines discern the identity of individual trees and shape-shift accordingly." Speculation is that chemicals or microbes might trigger gene-activating signals that trigger leaf differentiation. But left unsaid is how the vine would "learn" how to match the shape of its new host's leaf, how it would know it had succeeded, where it would acquire the genes to do so, and how many different trees it can mimic.

Wouldn't you need eyes to do that?

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:00AM

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:00AM (#37577) Journal

    > But left unsaid is how the vine would "learn" how to match the shape of its new host's leaf, how it would know it had
    > succeeded, where it would acquire the genes to do so, and how many different trees it can mimic.

    > Wouldn't you need eyes to do that?

    Nope. Does an individual ant need a degree in architecture to play its part in the building of an anthill? It's instinct (if we can ascribe such a thing to a plant). A long, long, long process of trial and fatal error has resulted in a set of programming instructions that mean that the plant will respond to stimulus A (chemicals A, B and C received from the host plant) with response Z (greeny-red leaves with spiky bits), but will respond to stimulus B (chemicals C, D and E from host) with response Y (purply-red leaves with rounded ends) and so on.

    There is no intelligence required, just incredibly complex programming, built up over countless generations of selection pressure.

    It is amazing though, you can see why some people see the hand of a designer in it.

    • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:16AM

      by SlimmPickens (1056) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:16AM (#37580)

      I think they're asking valid questions about how the fuck it does that.

    • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:25AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:25AM (#37582)

      And you know this how? Because you have studied the gene sequencing and protein synthesis of the plant? By the way, no one said anything about a designer.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by wonkey_monkey on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:41AM

        by wonkey_monkey (279) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:41AM (#37584) Homepage

        By the way, no one said anything about a designer.

        By the way, no one said anything about anyone else in this discussion saying anything about a designer.

        --
        systemd is Roko's Basilisk
      • (Score: 4, Informative) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:50AM

        by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:50AM (#37586) Journal

        > And you know this how? Because you have studied the gene sequencing and protein synthesis of the plant?

        I know this because that's how all life on this planet got to be how it is - through mutation and selection.

        > By the way, no one said anything about a designer.

        You're wrong, unless you're counting me as "no one".

        I was simply pointing out that it is understandable for anyone who fails to understand the evolutionary process to grasp at supernatural / magical explanations when confronted with something as awesome and apparently miraculous as a plant that, without eyes, can apparently "see" it's surroundings and camouflage itself accordingly.

        I'm not saying that those explanations are true, just that this is a really mind-blowingly awesome example of what natural selection can produce.

        • (Score: 2) by bucc5062 on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:56AM

          by bucc5062 (699) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:56AM (#37588)

          "I'm not saying that those explanations are true, just that this is a really mind-blowingly awesome example of what natural selection can produce."

          Well said. (On all accounts)

          --
          The more things change, the more they look the same
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by wonkey_monkey on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:38AM

      by wonkey_monkey (279) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:38AM (#37583) Homepage

      A long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long x 10^lots process of trial and fatal error

      FTFY. A billion years is a big number to get your head around - no wonder some people have trouble understanding just how many things can happen in that time.

      --
      systemd is Roko's Basilisk
  • (Score: 0) by arachnist on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:04AM

    by arachnist (172) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:04AM (#37578)

    I, for one, welcome our new hiding plant overlords.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @04:05PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @04:05PM (#37721)

      Tonight on Fox News! A plant that can imitate other plants! How long before they start imitating people?!

    • (Score: 2, Funny) by cellocgw on Tuesday April 29 2014, @04:48PM

      by cellocgw (4190) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @04:48PM (#37737)

      I, for one, welcome our new hiding plant overlords.

      Oh jeez, can't soylent have its own set of cliches?

      But, hey, I for one ( :- ) ) find a vine that can mimic other species creepy .

      --
      Physicist, cellist, former OTTer (1190) resume: https://app.box.com/witthoftresume
      • (Score: 2) by frojack on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:59PM

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:59PM (#37767) Journal

        Wouldn't SN's meme be something along the lines of

            "Quick, drape the vine over this bacon!"

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 2) by Dunbal on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:19AM

    by Dunbal (3515) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @10:19AM (#37581)

    "But left unsaid is how the vine would "learn" how to match the shape of its new host's leaf, how it would know it had succeeded, where it would acquire the genes to do so, and how many different trees it can mimic."

    You have just demonstrated a lack of understanding of natural selection. The answer is: all the vines that didn't match their hosts' leaves are dead. If you want the answer, figure out who or what ate or killed all those non-matching vines.

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Fluffeh on Tuesday April 29 2014, @11:18AM

      by Fluffeh (954) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 29 2014, @11:18AM (#37595) Journal

      And you have just demonstrated a lack of ability to read the article - or the summary for that part.

      It's not so much about "learning" the shape of a single leaf. If the plant would indeed only mimic a single other plant, then it is clearly a simple matter of natural selection - the plant that doesn't look like the other one gets eaten. This vine can mimic other plants that it grows on - a single vine can mimic multiple plants depending on which part of the vine is on what plant. This appears to be a TOTALLY unique form of imitation, one not based on pure dumb luck.

      While I do agree that natural selection is at work here at the core, I am REALLY interested in knowing how this plant can have a single stem imitate a number of plants. I would find it utterly amazing that it could "sample" the DNA of the plant it was growing on through its aerial roots - perhaps through some form of HGT [wikipedia.org], or at the very least sample distinct enzymes from the plant it was growing on - but I can't think of any other means to have a single stem grow different shaped and sized leaves - and for THAT process to develop through natural selection is nothing short of amazing.

      Growing leaves to one shape is simple enough, naturally selecting a plant with the ability to imitate numerous others while at the same time competing with all the "simple" imitating plants and not getting eaten out of existence is amazing. It's up there with a biped growing wheels instead of legs while trying to outrun things that eat them - the complexity is nothing short of breath-taking.

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by Dunbal on Tuesday April 29 2014, @11:57AM

        by Dunbal (3515) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @11:57AM (#37604)

        " If the plant would indeed only mimic a single other plant, then it is clearly a simple matter of natural selection"

        Who said that natural selection is limited to one and only one feature, gene, etc. The vine is capable of adapting itself to more than a single set of conditions. The way it does this must have a corresponding biochemical pathway activated by specific triggers. These pathways have come into existence because it's advantageous to the vine to have them. There's no magic or mysticism involved. If you want to know why, then like I said, you have to figure out what exactly was the cause of the demise of other similar vines that lacked this particular ability. Since leaf shape is evolutionarily important as a marker then something must have been killing those vines that had the "wrong" leaf shape for particular tree types. As for the "how", it's just a case of digging in a bit more into the chemistry. Leaf shape isn't controlled by all that many genes.

        If you think that is amazing, then obviously you've never seen an octopus in action. This world is full of amazing things.

        • (Score: 3, Informative) by Fluffeh on Tuesday April 29 2014, @01:34PM

          by Fluffeh (954) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 29 2014, @01:34PM (#37635) Journal

          I'm sorry, I should have emphasized the simple in that statement more strongly. I meant that one plant evolving to have a leaf shape similar to another (to mask it from potential predators) is simple enough.

          What I wanted to really highlight in my post was that given the evolutionary complexity for something to evolve to not only mimic a single other type of plant, but rather a MUCH MORE complex system of immersing itself in whatever plant happened to be nearby - all the while doing so alongside plants evolving to mimic a single type of plant is simply amazing. Simple, straightforward, natural selection (ie, pretend to be a nasty tasting plant or whatever) is logical and makes sense in an evolutionary path. But something as amazing as this, given the steep competition (surely it wouldn't have been a quick process - and at the start, this plant would have certainly been behind the eight ball compared to other plants pretending to be the nasty tasting one) this really delights me.

          Leaf shape might not be controlled by a huge amount of genes (I'll take your word for it) but to have a process develop whereby a single stem of a vine can have many leaf shapes upon it, each specifically there to pretend to be a nearby plant - I am saying that THAT process is amazingly beautiful to me - and I am dumbstruck by the beauty of it.

          I have often been delighted by the amazing things in nature, yes, an octopus is really astounding - copper based blood, a semi-brain in each limb, high intelligence - oh and skin with cells that contract to hide particular pigments that it doesn't want shown... that's awesome (and all off the top of my head here) - but this is fresh, this is something I haven't come across before. That's why I am delighted, don't take that away from me :)

      • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Tuesday April 29 2014, @12:59PM

        by SlimmPickens (1056) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @12:59PM (#37626)
        Obviously the vine is tasty or it doesn't need to develop these talents. The detect your host routine was developed earlier for some other survival function, then voila! Magic vines!
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by RedBear on Tuesday April 29 2014, @01:42PM

        by RedBear (1734) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 29 2014, @01:42PM (#37639)

        Because we have eyes to see the mimicry, we naturally tend to assume that one must have eyes in order to see the appearance of what one wants to mimic. Yet plants have no eyes.

        Because we have "intelligence" to understand what the mimicry is accomplishing, we naturally tend to assume that because the end result is complex the mechanism must be complex, and we tend to be amazed that it has occurred without any apparent "intelligence" involved. Yet plants have no intelligence.

        An insect was recently discovered with a fully functional multi-tooth meshing gear mechanism in its back legs that engages when it jumps, to make it jump straighter, and disengages when it walks. Because we know how long it took humanity to discover mechanical gears, we naturally marvel at this thing we assumed we'd never find in nature. Yet there it is. Evolved, in nature.

        The discovery of fractals showed us that a high degree of apparent complexity in an end result can originate from remarkably simple self-propagating algorithms.

        So is it necessarily true that what this vine has evolved to do is something amazingly complex, or is it just that we don't yet fully understand the remarkably simple rules which govern both evolution and leaf development? Isn't the most likely explanation that what causes the vine to develop different leaf shapes is exactly the same metabolic mechanism that causes the host plant to develop the same leaf shape, and that the vine is doing this "mimicry" completely unintentionally by a fortunate accident of evolution, and that there will be nothing particularly amazing about it once we understand the root cause?

        I'd say, yes. And once we figure out how it works, we humans with our "intelligence" will be able to take that metabolic mechanism and manipulate a single tree to develop dozens of different kinds of leaves. Imagine a tree with a different kind of leaf shape and color on every branch. Imagine new leaf shapes that have never been seen in nature. And THAT, my friends, will be breathtaking.

        --
        ¯\_ʕ◔.◔ʔ_/¯ LOL. I dunno. I'm just a bear.
        ... Peace out. Got bear stuff to do. 彡ʕ⌐■.■ʔ
      • (Score: 2) by lubricus on Tuesday April 29 2014, @02:33PM

        by lubricus (232) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @02:33PM (#37672)

        Is that the leaves can mimic close plants *EVEN WHEN THEY ARE NOT EVEN IN PHYSICAL CONTACT*!!!!

        IAAB (I am a biologist), and I can't think of a way this is possible... I wonder if it's a matter of our own spurious pattern matching.

        --
        ... sorry about the typos
        • (Score: 1) by Immerman on Tuesday April 29 2014, @03:38PM

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @03:38PM (#37704)

          Actually plants are known to signal each other via aromatic compounds - for example when a beetle infestation begins to strike a forest the infected trees begin to emit new compounds which stimulate other trees far downwind to begin producing chemical defenses long before the infection reaches them.

          I can't say I've ever heard any explanation of how exactly they *detect* said compounds though.

          There's also the possibility that plants may be far more aware of their environment than we normally give them credit for. I'm uncertain as to whether they have been independently verified, but there have been experiments where the conductivity of plants has been monitored in various scenarios and found unexpected results. Supposedly you can put two plants side-by-side and have a volunteer shred one of them, and the other will react to that specific person's presence for some time afterward. Others include plants reacting to someone thinking about burning them, or even reacting when their primary caretaker takes off and lands in a plane halfway across the country. A little woo-woo to be sure, but I'm not prepared to dismiss the claims without counter-evidence.

          On a more peer-reviewed level - are you aware that it's been recently discovered that plants appear to have brains? It's true - thousands of them actually. In each root end, immediately behind the boring tip, is a cluster of cells that demonstrate standing-wave electrical activity similar to that found in an animal-based brain, along with clusters of chemoreceptors to make a bloodhound's nose look crude. And seen in time-lapse each of those root tips behaves not unlike a worm, and is capable of navigating around obstacles. It's not much of a brain, comparable in size to a worm or insect, but there's one at the tip of every single one of the thousands of roots, potentially giving a single plant the intellectual capacity of a large ant nest. If those micro-brains collaborate it's possible that plants could actually possess a rudimentary distributed intelligence. Future experiments are planned to attach root-tip controlled wheels to a plant so that it can propel itself, and presumably see if it's capable of learning to propel itself in a coherent manner.

          Anecdotal sample size of one, but many of my houseplants seem to learn how to inform me they need to be watered. At least those that survive. After a few months they'll start drooping horribly even while the soil is still slightly moist, and then perk up and look perfectly healthy before the water has even finished soaking into their soil. Sure, that *could* be a symptom of vascular damage from repeated neglect, but it also strongly resembles a crude form of communication.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:46PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:46PM (#37760)

            > Supposedly you can put two plants side-by-side and have a volunteer shred one of them, and the other will react to that specific person's presence for some time afterward. Others include plants reacting to someone thinking about burning them, or even reacting when their primary caretaker takes off and lands in a plane halfway across the country.

            These claims are from the _A Wrinkle in Time_ book series. Which is fiction where the universe's weird voodoo physics based on conscious subatomic particles explains these observations. Please check your sourcing more carefully next time.

            • (Score: 1) by Immerman on Thursday May 01 2014, @05:15AM

              by Immerman (3985) on Thursday May 01 2014, @05:15AM (#38368)

              Nope, though I do remember the scene with the little plants at home and at the library, I don't believe there was any plant-shredding going on in the Wrinkle books. My source was something older I think, and a fair bit more practical... "Paranormal Research Beyond the Iron Curtain" or something like that - chock full of oddities and the procedures by which you could duplicate them. I don't believe I ever attempted the plant-related ones, lacking a lie detector to detect the reaction, but I was able to recreate enough of the others to leave me credulous.

  • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Tuesday April 29 2014, @12:50PM

    by c0lo (156) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @12:50PM (#37623) Journal

    Wouldn't you need eyes to do that?

    Wouldn't Paramecium [wikipedia.org] need muscles to move its cilia?

    --
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @02:14PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29 2014, @02:14PM (#37660)

    The answer is yes, normally you would need eyes to do what this "plant" does. So, the obvious answer is that this is not a plant at all, at least not the way we think of it. Instead, what we're dealing with here is what was described in the 1978 documentary movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers": plant-like pods which can create clones of people, called "pod people". This alien lifeform is starting small, just cloning earth plants, but it also has the ability to create pod people, and probably has already started.

    Considering how badly humans have managed this planet, I for one welcome our new pod people overlords.

  • (Score: 1) by cliffjumper222 on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:49PM

    by cliffjumper222 (2628) on Tuesday April 29 2014, @05:49PM (#37762)

    I wonder if the vine is able to use or hijack the host plant's DNA to make its leaves. In that case, the vine doesn't need to identify the host per se, it just needs to use whatever DNA the host has.

    --
    He who dares wins, Rodney
    • (Score: 2) by Bokononist on Wednesday April 30 2014, @01:13AM

      by Bokononist (3013) on Wednesday April 30 2014, @01:13AM (#37943)

      Exactly that, we perceive that the only way to copy is by sight because that is our own experience, there are many ways to mimic and I'm quite sure that our human experience gives us but a few. There is a wonderful quote from Dune; 'What senses do I lack that I cannot perceive another world around me', or something along those lines.

      --
      Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.
  • (Score: 2) by juggs on Wednesday April 30 2014, @01:10AM

    by juggs (63) on Wednesday April 30 2014, @01:10AM (#37941) Journal

    An interesting experiment would be to take a few specimens from their current native environment and set them up to grow amongst tree species that are 'unfamiliar' to them, especially such tree species that have notably distinct leaf shapes. Observe.

    If the vine specimens managed to mimic their new unfamiliar hosts' leaf shapes within that first generation of vine - that (to me) would be staggering. That could mean that the vines have an incredibly elaborate and accurate 'database' of tree phenotypes mapped to whatever markers the vine is picking up or reacting to in order to produce its leaves. That or they can actually actively 'see' (in its very loosest definition) their current climbing platform and mimic it.

    Alternatively, we may find we throw them on a bunch of European oak or larch trees and the vines start growing yucca shaped leaves. i.e. some sort of heuristic "well this is the closest I currently have available Dave" response.

    Alternatively, we may find we throw them on a bunch of European oak or larch trees and the vines start growing yucca, banana, coniferous and amorphous shaped leaves in various segments. i.e. another sort of heuristic "I'm sorry Dave, I really don't know what to make of that, so I'll chuck some of everything up and see what gets eaten least" response.

    Whatever the result, it would be fascinating.

    ** no I did not do any looking to see what these particular vines native tree platforms are, I just let some random examples fall out of my fingers.
    ** yes I know the talking plant thing is stupid! :P