Wheat Is More Complex Than Einstein

By Shlomo Maital


    Born in Saskatchewan, I grew up among waving fields of golden wheat.  Few sights are more beautiful.  Little did I know how ‘smart’ wheat plants are…until Prof. Chamovitz.    

    Prof. Daniel Chamovitz is a Tel Aviv Univ. plant geneticist, author of a recent book,  What a Plan Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses (2012, Scientific American).   He was interviewed recently in the Hebrew language Haaretz weekly magazine. 

    Among his research projects:    “Recently we got interested in the question of what anti-cancer chemicals found in plants do for the plant. Particularly we’re studying indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a phytochemical found in vegetables like broccoli and mustard that has also been reported effective in killing breast and prostate cancer cells.”

     According to Chamovitz,  plants are genetically more complicated than humans!  Human beings have some 20,000 – 25,000 genes.  This is the number of genes Albert Einstein had.  But plants have more.  The rice plant, whose genome was decoded, has 37,000 genes.  And according to Chamovitz,  his team decoded the wheat genome, at Tel Aviv U., and found it has even more genes than rice. 


     Survival.  Evolution, survival of the fittest.

     For example, he notes,   human beings have four genes that that control and develop light receptors in the retina.  But plants have 13!   Why?    Light is more important for plants’ survival than it is for humans.  Plants need to time their cycle according to the length of days (when to blossom, e.g.), they need to angle their stalks to seek light….

    Historian Yuval Noah Harari  claims, in his book, that wheat domesticated humans, rather than vice versa.  Meaning:  Wheat adapted itself, to create value for humans, leading humans to cultivate it widely. And that is the goal of living things – procreate, spread, multiply.    Whatever the case,  plants are highly sophisticated living things that have evolved in very touch environments, adapted beautifully to their surroundings, and where necessary, have created alliances with humans. 

    It may well be, as humans spew CO2 into the air and ruin their planet’s air and water, that plants will simply adjust and adapt, using their proliferation of genes,  and inherit the earth from people with big brains who simply are incapable of really using them.