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Introducing Pavlov’s…..Plants?

Hi! I’m Jessica, a high school Biology/Anatomy&Physiology/Marine Biology/Forensics teacher in southern California.

I’m the only high school teacher in this summer Fellowship of the Brain but hopefully I’ll make a good enough impression so they’ll invite more teachers in the future… after all, we ARE the market.

The first week has been amazing. Besides feeling like I’m in college again, I’ve been able to get my hands on all the BYB toys a teacher could ever want. Except I was much more squeamish than I’d like to admit when trying to cyborg a cockroach….

I have a B.A. in Human Biology: International Health and Infectious Diseases (a mouthful, I know…) and a Master’s in Education, so all this “spike sorting-ISI-auto-correlation-FFT- breadboard” language — neuroscience/computer science/electrical engineering — has been over my head, but I love it! That’s why I’m here.

All of us have our own individual projects, and to be honest, I was not very excited about the one I was assigned to at first.

I’d never worked with plants before, and every plant I’ve tried to raise has gone quickly to the grave. But the more I read about plants, the more I’m falling in love with them. They’re gentle, life-giving, competitive, quiet, sensing living systems. They’re the kid in class you never notice until they floor you with their presentation. They’re the guy when, looking back, you should have totally gone for, not that show-off who, after a couple dates, you realize is completely actually boring. They’re the friends who are a nicer and nicer surprise the more you get to know them, not the terrible oh-no-what-have-I-gotten-into type of surprise. In sum, here’s a storyboard representation of my project:

So my project asks, can plants learn? Can they be “trained” to associate certain neutral cues with a reward like Pavlov’s dogs did? Monica Gagliano, the woman in the 5th panel above, did an astounding study published in one of the most bad-ass journals out there (Nature), which I’ll be recreating so that classrooms can try this for themselves!


I’ll be taking the Pisum sativum aka the pea plant:

Growing them in a pots and “train” them to associate fans with light (their food! how cool is that — plants eat light…) and then see if they grow towards the fan even when there is no light present.

Here is one of the figures of M. Gagliano’s paper here:

And some links on cool plant stuff: Monica Gagliano on Radiolab Sniffing Predatorial Parasitic Plant Plant-to-Plant Communication

Next time I’ll get you an update on how I’ve set up my experiment 🙂