In 1846 a patient with a tumor on her neck was the first to try something drastic, perhaps even desperate: anesthesia. The inhalation of ether gas before going under the knife, repeatedly paid off. Today, surgery without anesthesia is simply impossible to imagine. This idea, however, was not new even in 1846. For 28 years prior to that, she was proposed by none other than Michael Faraday, known today for his work on electromagnetic fields and the invention of a magical Faraday cage, which protects against lightning or other powerful bursts of electricity.
Still, the concept that almost 200 years, anesthesia is almost a miracle. We still really don’t understand how it works or why so many structurally related chemicals, diethyl ether, chloroform, halothane, isoflurane, or even inert noble gas xenon is equally well cut down animals.
Even more strikingly, the same group of chemicals works not only on animals but also on plants. Venus flytrap, as it turned out, also easy to load the dream, like flying over it the fly Drosophila.
That’s the usual trap in action: if you double-disturb the hairs on venerini the flytrap in a short period of time, it will snap. But after exposure to diethyl ether a plant goes to sleep.
Video of this action can be viewed on Scientific American.
Surprised? Me too. However, scientists know quite a long time that plants are in principle susceptible to anesthesia. Claude Bernard showed the sensitive plant Mimosa pudica sleeping in 1878.
Much stronger more surprising: it turns out that not only plants and animals any organism on the planet is exposed to anesthesia. Bacteria, chloroplasts and even mitochondria inside our cells — all of them are exposed to a mysterious gas.
However, plants can offer a unique opportunity to experiment. Not so long ago a group of scientists from Japan, Germany, Czech Republic and Italy thought that the study of plants can be the key to unraveling the principles of anesthesia, not only them, but us. They published their first results in December in Annals of Botany.
First, they showed that the effects of anesthesia exposed to more plants than was known before. In addition to venerini flytrap and Mimosa pudica, Cape sundew, sticky leaves which curl around trapped insects in them, and pea tendrils, which are generally slow, also hardens when exposed to gases.
They also tried to apply a local anesthetic — lidocaine, which is familiar to you from the dental office to the roots of sensitive plants. It paralyzed the plant for five hours.
On the topic of work anesthesia, there are two main schools of thought. The first argues that anesthetics are associated with some receptor. A receptor is a molecule with a pocket whose shape is ideal for chemical anesthetic. Being attached to this pocket, anesthetic changes the shape of the receptor, all this growing cascade leads to slower movements and consciousness.
The second camp suggests that anesthetics alter the cell membrane. The cell membrane is a double layer of biochemical substances called phospholipids. Phospholipid layers to form mirrored the oceans, in which proteins float like wayward Islands.
Many of the proteins of the membrane act as portals by controlling the flow of biochemical substances, leading to cell and from it. In our case, the membrane maintains an electrical charge of the cell in accordance with the environment, blocking the movement of ions, small charged atoms or molecules — if they do not pass through certain gates.
This feature is vital for cells that transmit nerve signals in animals, because the difference between the charges inside and outside of cells propagates action potentials. The action potential is an electrical impulse. Ion portals in the membrane open and close rapidly, changing the charge like a beating heart.
The animal cells, generating action potentials, neurons are the smallest units of the nervous system. The action potential is transmitted along the axon — in fact, the wire — neuron in the wave caused by the closing and opening of ion portals.
This will be the subject of our discussion on the topic of anesthesia, as though it is powering anesthesia, the end result is the loss of action potentials. When the anaesthetic effect on the animal, neural heartbeat stops.
Plants can also generate action potentials. Cells venerini flycatchers, which can produce action potentials is triggered cells at the base of the hairs of the trap.
Scientists have shown that anesthesia numbs the action potentials in venerini the flytrap is exactly the same as in humans. They placed their lady’s flycatchers in Faraday cages to control their action potentials. Under the influence of diethyl ether, the same anesthetic that was used at the first operation in 1846, action potentials trigger the cells disappeared, and then slowly recovered after removal of gas.
This suggests that the bio-electricity and action potentials nourish the movement of plants and animals in the same way. What two groups separated by such a huge evolutionary gap, have the same mechanisms.
Scientists have also conducted experiments designed to test the hypothesis that anesthesia alters membrane. If you look closer at the root cells of Arabidopsis plants (this is the lab rat of the world of plants) under anesthesia with diethyl ether and lidocaine affect how the membrane moves tiny balls — vesicles. Because many complex components of the membrane must operate properly to recycling vesicles worked, scientists have suggested that anesthesia affects the work of cell membranes.
Other recent studies speak in support of this idea. One article even hinted that the anesthetic can spread — but it is surprising — on the spin of the electron in the proteins enclosed in membranes. Others suggested that the mechanism of anesthesia may involve a change in the thickness of the cell membrane or its mechanical properties, which in turn affects the function of the protein.
Anesthesia can even interact with the action of proteins, merged into complexes called “lipid rafts” floating within the phospholipid sea. In this case, membrane proteins and vesicles will fail, which can lead to short circuit of action potentials and immerse the body in sleep.
Perhaps the most convincing proof membrane hypothesis is the strangest of them, which was known for a long time: putting people, animals and even plants high pressure cancels the effects of the anesthesia. Constitute? Perhaps the pressure stabilizes membrane in such a way that makes them impervious to anaesthesia.
Cancellation of anesthesia under high pressure, is an amazing fact that all life forms are exposed to anesthesia and the altered function of the membrane in the cells of plant roots suggests that membranes are the primary culprit of the celebration of the anesthesia. So say the supporters of this hypothesis.
But if this hypothesis is correct, it is at odds with the generally accepted scientific consensus, preferring the hypothesis of a receptor. And if the receptors are the true target for anesthetics, here plants have similarities with the person. In plants there are glutamate and GABA receptors, key regulators of the CNS in animals that are mentioned as a possible target for anesthetics.
Debate about the impact of anesthesia on the membrane or receptors, are long overdue. Allow them quite hard, at least for the reason that to learn live tissue of animals under anesthesia quite difficult.
Plants, as scientists believe, can resolve this dilemma, especially because we now know that they suffer from the same loss of action potentials that we do. Fixed our green friends can be the perfect object to find “the elusive mechanism underlying anesthesia and the phenomenon of consciousness,” say the researchers.
It turns out that the plants could be conscious? Not get ahead of ourselves.