Do Plants Think?
Some Scientists Say They Can

Botanical Discoveries Challenge
Our Notions of Intelligence

by Majenta Stuntebeck, age 14

While people generally understand that some animals are intelligent—defining intelligence as possessing “the capacity to solve problems”—it is not generally known that plants are as well. In 1880, Charles Darwin wrote The Power of Movement in Plants, in which he discussed how plants demonstrate intelligence through movement. Until recently, the book was largely ignored and the idea of plant intelligence dismissed. However Stefano Mancuso, and Italian botanist and professor at the University of Florence, recently set out to show that plants should be seen as more than food for wildlife or decoration.

In 2005, Mancuso established the Society for Plant Neurobiology with a group of international scientists. Critics argued that because plants don’t have brains or neurons, “plant neurobiology” is inaccurate. At a TED talk in 2010, Mancuso explained why he believes the name is valid. While plants may not have neurons, they possess electrical signals known as action potentials, which are similar to those found in human neurons. These action potentials are located in a plant’s root tips, a place logical for plants since they are widely spread rather than in a centralized brain. Plants’ sessile (rooted) nature prevents them from being able to run away or hide from predators that could easily bite or claw off a centralized brain. [Read More]

Octopuses Love to Solve
Puzzles, and Trick Humans

But Don't Call Them Octopi

by Enjoyiana Nururdin, age 16

The word “octopus” comes from the Greek word meaning eight legs. (By the way, because it is Greek, not Latin, the word's plural is octopuses, not octopi.) Octopuses surprise and delight us in many ways. They stalk prey while hiding in plain sight, use complex brains to solve puzzles, and eject midnight-blue ink. All that, however, is only the beginning.

Though it may seem difficult for some people to walk with two legs, octopuses seem to have no problem walking with eight. But how they do it is strange. Take spiders, these creepy-crawlies usually move their eight legs in sets of two, almost as if they were connected by a rubber band. With the legs connected, the two sets of legs move opposite from each other. Octopuses' legs function differently--they move with no particular pattern, and their locomotion is completely random. Also, their mantle, or head, does not determine their direction of movement. They can even face one direction while moving in another. No other animal is known to move like an octopus. [Read More]

NASA Cameras Find Flowing Water on the Red Planet

Discovery Has Implications for Future Robotic
and Manned Missions

by Ruthanne Fiore, age 15

The thought of Martians has been on the minds of humans for years. In science fiction movies, Martians are often portrayed as little, green men with antennae. Of course, this isn’t an accurate depiction. Experts suggest that any life forms on Mars would be microscopic. Also, there would have to be water present on Mars for life to exist here in the first place.

In 2008, scientists confirmed the existence of frozen water on Mars, surprising many. Recently, strong evidence indicates that liquid water is also present on the frozen planet. “Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science for NASA. Discovered by an orbiter’s high-resolution telescopic camera, the liquid water potentially has huge implications: Martian life might not be just a dream anymore. [Read More]

Cuban Lung Vaccine Could Make Big Splash in America

US-Cuban Diplomatic Relationship Yields Surprising Benefit

by Megha Chalke, age 16

After decades of a tumultuous relationship, American-Cuban exchanges have finally taken a positive step forward. This change brings an unlikely ray of hope to the medical field – for America.

Cimavax, a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine, has now been introduced to America. This vaccine battles a protein that tumors produce and causes the body to release antibodies that fight against a hormone known as the “epidermal growth factor.” Cimavax works like other vaccines in that it doesn't directly attack the tumor; rather, it stimulates the immune system to tackle the disease. Basically, Cimavax prevents lung tumors from growing, thus rendering tumors manageable but not benign.

If the vaccine can’t prevent lung cancer, what's the big fuss about? Cimavax in its current form is only proven to increase the life expectancy of lung cancer patients for an average of four to six months; however, the drug also has the potential to limit the spread of other types of cancers. The biggest draw to Cimavax is its potential to create preventative medicine for cancers with the epidermal growth factor. For example, the epidermal growth factor actually plays an essential role in breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer. This could potentially change the face of medicine as we know it. [Read More]