Do plants have minds of their own?

Pleased to meetcha!

Recently, scientists have  discovered plants can be sedated. A sedated Venus flytrap won’t snap shut on its prey. It lies as relaxed as a stoner at a rock star concert. Once the sedative wears off, the flytrap is back to normal. Similarly plants whose flowers open in the morning and close up at night fail to follow the pattern once sedated.


Many years ago I read a fascinating article citing a scientific study that suggested that some plants can distinguish between their sibling plants—seeded by the same mother plant— and unrelated plants or plants of a different kind. In the case of unrelated plants, a plant will grow more and longer roots in search of water and nutrients, but in the case of sibling plants they were less greedy as if sharing the resources. The scientists attributed their ability to know their kin by their sensitivity to chemical cues.

We’ve all heard of people who claim that talking to their plants helps them grow. Scientists generally dismiss the idea, but there is one experiment that supports the idea that plants react to sound. Seven greenhouses were set up with recordings. In two, constant negative speech blared and in another two, positive speech. One was blessed with classical music, one cursed with heavy metal, and the last was left in peaceful silence.

The plants in the silent greenhouse grew the least, the ones hearing speech grew equally well and better than the ones ignored. The next best growth happened in the classical music greenhouse, but best of all were the plants with heavy metal. Hmm, it seems the louder or busier the sound, the better they grow. No claims were made about this single study.

Think about these interesting observations about plants. One could almost argue that there’s some consciousness going on. There are neuroscientists who claim human free will is an illusion. We are controlled by our structure and our chemicals. If that were true, this recent study hypothesizes plants are not so different from us.

We’ve all seen plants, which grow in the direction of the sun in our own houses. Do you think they think they are making a choice?

Sedating plants 
Plants share with siblings
Does talking to plants help them grow?


Whip up human muscles from your “Hi Janes”

Hi Janes


This article is not about exchanging flabby underarms for toned muscled ones. It’s about a scientist’s research into making muscle cells from skin cells. Biological engineer from Duke University, Nenad Bursac, has been trying to make muscles from “scratch” for purposes of finding cures for muscular disorders. At first he could only enable a glob of muscle cells to multiply. However not many volunteers are willing to give away muscle cells nor would you want to use them from someone with muscle problems. Skin cells are much more available.

So Bursac and his team sought and found a way to transform skin cells into functioning human muscle.

They can derive  pluripotent stem cells from skin cells  i.e. ones able to morph into any kind of cell in the body including muscle cells. What surprises me is that this is evidently the hard part. I would have thought it more difficult to collect these cells and make them function as a muscle. Muscles need to be able to contract and release.

The researchers use a gel made of fibrin, stuff that helps your blood clot as a cylindrical scaffold, which gives the cells a surface on which to align and complete their transformation into unified bundles of muscle fiber.

To verify that the fibers could function not just in culture but in live tissue, Bursac’s team transplanted their muscle bundles into adult mice. Then amazingly implanted small, glass windows  in the mice’s backs to watch the tissues not only survive but integrate with the rodent’s natural muscles. The vision of this amuses me. Evidently, the mice didn’t mind.

Bursac hypothesizes these skin-grown muscles will be capable of self-repair after exercise or injury.

Their discovery method will make it easier than ever for researchers to study muscle and muscle-based therapies, Stem cells capable of becoming any kind of cell are amazing enough. Now we can make such cells from ordinary skin. Mind blowing!




Special Assignment

I asked my friend Violet the year this took place, and she believes it was 1965.

Violet's Vibes

This is a true story of a defining moment in my life from my book, In the Right Place: A Gallery of Treasured Moments (Carr Twins & Co. 2006). This revision is as fitting today, January 15, 2018, as the nation observes the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, as it was when first published.

The scene: Proof machines clatter and a check sorter hums with activity outside the manager’s door in a bank Operations Center. A West Coast transplant to the Deep South is being briefed on her new assignment, a dark secret that is about to change this workplace forever.

“James wants to see you in his office when you finish that batch of deposits,” my supervisor said.  Except for annual performance reviews, a summons to his office was rare and seldom good news.

“I asked you here to give you a special assignment,” James said. “Because of…

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Women: Get in touch with your Viking warrior selves!

Only in 2017, was it revealed via DNA analyses that the ancient remains of a Viking warrior was not male but female. According to a national geographic article, “More than a millennium ago in what’s now southeastern Sweden, a wealthy Viking warrior was laid to rest in a resplendent grave filled with swords, arrowheads, and two sacrificed horses.” Modern scientists assumed the warrior was male. Viking lore and sagas suggested there were women warriors, but archaeologists evidently imposed current gender roles to dismiss the idea as embroidery to myths.

Since the discovery of the Birka warrior in the 1880s, the assumption of male remains continued until 2014, when Anna Kjellström presented at a conference her findings that close examination of the pelvic and mandible bones were consistent with a female’s. When archaeologists defended the long-held view it was male, they tried to explain away her claim, but another archaeologist, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson did careful DNA research establishing the gender. In fact, game pieces found in the lap indicated she was involved in planning tactics.

Expected gender roles have varied with time. Pioneer women  worked in the fields although suntans were consequently non-fashionable. Being pale meant being wealthy enough for wives and daughters to remain quietly indoors. Laura Ingalls Wilder wore long dresses and sunbonnets with large bills when outdoors.

It is unbelievable that the right to vote took a one-hundred-year battle.

The Rosie the Riveter period was followed by a considered effort to get women back home to make way to provide jobs for the men coming home from war. Never have there been more ads to prevent “waxy yellow buildup.”  Not only must floors be waxed to a shine, one must occasionally remove layer upon layer. Not everyone fell for it.

Women are currently showing their political muscle against sexual abuse and requiring sexual favors for job security and promotion.

This blog was written in honor of the upcoming nationwide Women’s Marches on January 20th. I’m tempted to carry a spear with last year’s sign with the coiled snake and Revolutionary War slogan  “Don’t tread on me.” Hmm, maybe I can put spear points on the ends of the poles of the sign. Yes, I like that idea. Now if I can only find a Viking helmet..


Affairs in your family? No, then gene testing is a family affair.

 I gave my husband and daughter gene tests with 23andMe for Christmas. I did mine a few years back as a birthday gift. It sounded like fun, better than a visit to a fortune-teller. I found no surprises: 99.9% European with 1/3 German and French. When my sister had the idea of giving tests to her family, I went back online to see my report and discovered more than I remembered. The German and French meant my ancestors came from a region, parts  of which ended up in the two different countries..

As more people are tested, more information is added to your reports. They include  predictions based on statistics about folks with similar genes. I am likely to smell asparagus in my pee. I never knew  anyone  couldn’t. All my predictions were correct except one and that was my hair color. Each time I go on there’s new information and new surveys.

Many companies perform gene testing and it pays for family members to use the same one as more ancestral genes can be identified. To my surprise my sister bought me and our other sister a test from They were cheaper by the dozen so to speak. I’m curious to see how all the results compare..

I recently read an article on ear lobes and genetics. It appears that geneticists are obsessed with attached versus unattached ear lobes.  I guess it’s just an easily studied trait, but correlations with certain diseases have been proposed.

There are those who worry that your information won’t remain private, and that the government will end up knowing more about you. I am not concerned. Not sure there’s more they’ll find out that’s not in the census data nor doubt they care about hair color and asparagus scented pee.

What creeps me out is not only myself but my hubby  shopping online and subsequently seeing ads for the  product. I recall one teen’s father incensed over her getting ads for diapers. It turns out the marketing world found out she was pregnant before her parents.

I did agree to allow access to my data for research purposes without identifying me in any way. I think it’s useful to society as a whole to know more about our genetic consequences. At any rate, it’s fun.

Happy New Year!


Do you ever feel like being silly? It’s good for you.

Look what stares into our family room.



It’s well known that laughter is good for your mental health so being silly must also qualify. So today’s post is devoted to my recent silliness.

We bought a cover for a patio heater. Covered, it reminded me so much of an alien, I couldn’t resist enhancing that impression. He stands on our deck just outside the sliding glass doors in our family room. Every time I pass I smile.



I think it all started with the launch party of my new book, Lower World. I decorated with jellyfish balloons, removed the handle from a duster that reminded me of a sea cucumber, stuffed a balloon to create a cock-eyed squid, and bought balls that not only look like sea urchins, they bio-luminesce as many of the creatures in the ocean deep are wont to do including my characters.


Jellyfish Ornament



Several years ago, my daughter’s gift was a collection of starfish and other shells for an ocean theme for our tree. I found some shells in centerpieces that made perfect jellyfish bodies so now our tree sports jellyfish as well.





Tonight is kind of a silly night at my book club as we decided to wear ugly Christmas sweaters only to learn that today is indeed ugly sweater day. My hostess wants us to wear fancy slippers so I attached them to my plain jane old black isotoners.


Click on the first website below if you like, and learn about the limbic system and how the amygdala and the hippocampus are involved in laughter, the second related to a study of habits. Or, you can take my word for it that the silliness lifted my spirits.

“Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.” .Catherine Rippenger Fenwick

So try a little silly right this very moment and chase the many world troubles away for another day.

OMG, Origami Robots!

Scientists are exploring uses for robots that can be enveloped in an exoskeleton made from folding a thin sheet of plastic. Cuts are made into a sheet, and then applying heat makes them fold up. The robot can effectively become a rolling ball, a boat, or a glider. They can be developed to have super strong  muscles according to Daniela Rus1, but making tiny robots may be the most promising as a tool to serve humans.

One of the projected exciting uses is in medicine where once inside a human body, an appropriately designed robot could perform a variety of procedures without a single cut with a knife. These include surgery, collection of tissue samples, removing a foreign object swallowed by a child, and dispensing medicine to a particular body site. A magnet inserted into the tiny robot  will allow it to be controlled.

The robot could be frozen in an ice pill, which will melt in your tummy and out will pop the robot reporting for duby.

I first heard about it on NPR’s Science Friday and had to look it up. Check out this source  to see one of these things scuttling around a dinner plate. If I saw one on my kitchen floor, my first instinct would be to stomp on it.

Despite looking like darting insects, part of their beauty is their cost benefit. They are affordable for education and manufacturing marvelous toys. Too bad they’re not yet perfected with Christmas coming up.


  1. Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT

PS I’m changing my blog pattern to every other Saturday from the 10th, 20th, and 30th of the month. I’ve noticed more readers on Saturdays.;