UnNews:Study shows vegetables may be conscious

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Study shows vegetables may be conscious

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7 September 2006


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Sentient vegetables plead for their lives before heading to the stewpot.

WASHINGTON DC -- Advanced brain scanning techniques uncovered startling signs of awareness in a potato trapped in a vegetative state, British scientists reported Thursday — a finding that complicates one of medicine and agriculture's ethical minefields.

The work is sure to elicit pleas from farmers desperate to know if their crops have brain-like electrical activity that few suspect. "Can my tomatoes and carrots hear and understand me?" is a universal question.

It's far too soon to raise hopes, the British researchers and U.S. specialists stress. There's no way to know if this 1-year-old potato will recover, and therefore if its brain activity meant anything medically. The potato's situation may not be typical of other crops in a vegetative state.

Scientists don't even agree on whether the potato had some real awareness — it seemed to follow, mentally, certain commands — or if it was responding more automatically to speech.

"This is just one potato. The result in one potato does not tell us whether any other potato, or ear of corn or whatever, will show similar results, nor whether this result will have any bearing on this particular potato," cautioned neuroscientist Adrian Owen of Britain's Medical Research Council. He led the novel brain-scanning experiment, reported in the journal, Science.

The work does raise calls for more research in this difficult-to-study population — because of the tantalizing prospect of one day learning how to predict which vegetable is more likely to think and have feelings.

"It raises the questions of ethics and experience of these vegetables, I think, to a new level," said neuroscientist Joy Hirsch of New York's Columbia University Medical Center. "It raises the tension about how we prepare these veggies for consumption."

But, "making menu decisions based on this information at this point in time we say is not appropriate," warned Hirsch, who is conducting similar research and already receives "just heartwrenching" requests for help.

The potato was raised and harvested in Idaho. By the time Owen scanned for brain activity five months later, it had been pronounced in a vegetative state — physically unresponsive to a battery of tests. A very small percentage of vegetables make some recovery after spending a short period in a vegetative state.

Those that don't improve after a longer period are classified as in a "persistent vegetative state," such as the late Chester Cabbage, who became a subject of political controversy over the question of taking such vegetables off life support and cooking them in a pot. An autopsy showed Cabbage had irreversible damage.


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