Stefano Mancuso

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Stefano Mancuso
Born(1965-05-09)May 9, 1965
Catanzaro, Italy
Alma materUniversity of Florence
  • Premio Nazionale di Divulgazione (2013)
  • Tignano festival award (2019)
  • Premio Galileo per la divulgazione scientifica (2018)
  • Award of the Austrian Ministry of Research and Economy for the Book of the Year (2016)
Scientific career
  • Botany
  • Plant physiology
  • Plant perception
  • Plant cognition
  • Plant ecology

Stefano Mancuso (born 9 May 1965) is an Italian botanist active in multiple fields[1], author[2], essayist, popularizer of science, and professor of the Agriculture, Food, Environment and Forestry department at his alma mater University of Florence.[3] Mancuso is the director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology[4], steering committee member of the Society of Plant Signaling and Behavior[5], editor-in-chief of the Plant Signaling & Behavior journal[6] and a member of the Accademia dei Georgofili.[7][8]


Mancuso developed an interest in the research of plants during his university studies.[9]

Since 2001, Mancuso has been a professor at the University of Florence, and in 2005 he founded the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology, designed to study the physiology, behavior, molecular biology, intelligence, and other fields of plant science.[10]

In 2010, Mancuso gave a lecture in Oxford on the movement of roots in the soil: how they look for water, nutrients and capture new spaces.[11] Mancuso was also an invited speaker at the TED Global conference in the same year.[12]

In 2012, in the Plantoid project, Stefano took part in the creation of a "bio-inspired" robot that imitated certain natural properties of the roots, and could, for example, explore an area that is difficult to access or contaminated as a result of a nuclear accident or the use of bacteriological weapons.[13]

In 2013, Mancuso published the book "Plant Intelligence" (italian: L’intelligenza delle piante), co-authored with Alessandra Viola.[14]

In 2014, at the University of Florence, Mancuso created a startup specializing in plant biomimetics and an autonomous floating greenhouse[15], which was offered for mass production to the Chilean government in 2016.

Scientific research

Inspiration and predecessors

Stefano Mancuso was inspired by the research of George Washington Carver, Ephraim Wales Bull and Charles Harrison Blackley, as well as such famous naturalists as Charles Darwin and Gregor Johann Mendel.

Plant neurobiology is included in the science field of botany, as well as the memory research (including transgenerational[16] and epigenetic learning[17]) of experience (for example, mimosa pudica, which responds to touch by folding its leaves)[18][19][20], communication and social life of the plants.

According to Stefano Mancuso, since the beginning of the 1990s, some scientists began to recognize that plants have not only the ability to communicate with each other, but also their own form of intelligence.[21][22][23][24]

Root system of plants

Stefano Mancuso studied the abilities of plants and their root system (in particular, the tops of the roots, which are very sensitive to various types of stimuli[25], such as: pressure, temperature, certain sounds, humidity, and damage).[26] Stefano is interested in research of the roots, which a plant uses to fix its position in the soil, access water and nutrients, and maintain symbiosis with other species and relationships with other plants. According to an article published in 2004 by a group of botanists (which included Mancuso), the areas of the root apices interact with each other, forming a structure whose functions are largely similar to the functions of an animal's brain.[27]

Plant perception

Mancuso concluded that in the course of evolution, plants had to work out solutions to the problems inherent in organisms attached to a substrate. Although plants have neither nerves nor a brain, they have a social life and, therefore, analogs of the sensory organs, though very different from those observed in representatives of the animal world. The key to understanding this can be found in some cells (gametes and bacteria), corals, sponges, and in the behavior of organisms such as placozoa. In 2012, Mancuso and his colleagues proved that plants have special receptors which make their roots sensitive to sound and the direction of its distribution.[28] Other biologists four years prior claimed that trees in conditions of acute water shortage can emit sounds which can be more than just passive signs of cavitation.[29]

Phytoplankton and terrestrial plants have certain abilities for the perception of light. Mancuso and his colleagues proved with the help of a laboratory experiment on an arabidopsis that the root apices are very sensitive to light (a few seconds of illumination are enough to cause an immediate and strong reaction of the molecules of the ROS). The phenomenon described by Mancuso and his colleagues in their work largely complemented earlier observations and studies of living roots made using confocal microscopy.[30]

In the book “Plant revolution: le piante hanno già inventato il nostro futuro”[31], Mancuso describes how plants have found and tested “brilliant” solutions to the various problems that humanity faces today for hundreds of millions of years. Plants, partly due to symbiosis with bacteria and fungi, “invented” well-optimized and stable methods of colonizing the earth's surface and then the lower atmosphere. Plants also created one of the most important carbon sinks on our planet, and launched the production of clean energy from starch, sucrose, sclerenchyma and complex biomolecules through photosynthetic chlorophyll, biodegradability according to the principles of a circular economy.

Plants and animals

Mancuso notes that vascular plants have an analogue of the circulatory system, consisting of several organs (in particular reproductive organs), but that unlike highly organized animals, plants have receptors distributed throughout the body, while animals have receptors concentrated in specific organs such as eyes, ears, skin, tongue. The reproductive organs of plants are diverse in principle of their functioning, while in animals they're more unified. According to Mancuso, this suggests that the plants "smell", "listen", "communicate" (between individuals of the same species, and sometimes with other species) and "learn" [32] (through a certain form of memory, including the memory of their immune system[33]), using their entire modular organism (which allows plants to resist both predatory and herbivorous animals better). Mancuso often refers to lima bean as an example, which, when attacked by red spider mite (lat. tetranychus urticae), releases a complex of molecules into the air that can attract phytoseiulus persimilis, carnivorous mites that are ready to absorb colonies of their spider mates. Mancuso and his colleagues emphasized the role of auxins, which function as neurotransmitters, similar to those found in animals.

Now we also know that plants are able to synthesize molecules that play a role similar to animal neurons[27], in particular synaptotagmins and monosodium glutamate [27]. Plants can also carry out the biosynthesis of molecules that are supposed to be homologous to molecules that perform important functions in animals (for example, molecules that activate immunophilins[34] that perform immune and hormonal functions in animals, in particular, signaling of steroid and neurological hormones). Cytology confirms the existence of plant cells behaving as synapses, in which auxins appear to play the role of neurotransmitters (given the specifics of plants). In 2005, Mancuso, together with several biochemists, developed a “non-invasive” microelectrode based on carbon nanotube technology for measuring and fixing the flow of information that can circulate in plants. [35]

Plant intelligence

Mancuso notes that for a very long time, intelligence was mistakenly considered by many people to be “what distinguishes us from other living beings,” but if we consider intelligence as the ability to solve and overcome problems, we have to recognize that plants possess it, and it is intelligence that allows plants to develop and respond to most of the problems that they encounter throughout their ontogenesis.[36][37]

Thus, plants adapt to life in almost all sufficiently lit terrestrial and aquatic environments, encountering both herbivores and predatory insects and animals. Although plants do not have a specific organ comparable to the brain, they use the equivalent of the so-called "Diffuse brain" (it. "Cervello diffuso")[38]. Some of the plants, for example, are capable of secreting substances that attract insects and animals so that plants can use them for their own needs later. Chemicals synthesized by plants often have a very complex effect on the behavior of animals and insects (an example is the mutually beneficial relationship of myrmecophytes and ants, in particular the phenomenon of the devil's garden in Amazonian forests).[39]

Mancuso concluded that technical solutions for the future should be more "bio-inspired". As a biological species, some plants have existed for a much longer period than any of the so-called "higher" animals (for example, ginkgo biloba, which has existed for 250 million years). Mancuso recalls how Charles Darwin showed that all living organisms who have survived up until the present moment are at the peak of their own development, if we consider their formation from the point of view of evolution. Plants are among the organisms without which there would be no life on Earth as such, and therefore we must protect and defend their right to further existence and prosperity. Mancuso and his colleagues recall that at the end of his life, when Charles Darwin became more interested in plants, in a book called "The Power of Movement in Plants", Darwin wrote:

"... it would not be an exaggeration to say that the root apex is so endowed with sensitivity that it can direct the movements of plant parts, like the brain of some lower animals. The brain is present in the front of the body, perceives sensations from the senses and directs various movements..." [40]


Stefano Mancuso conducts research in the field of so-calledplant neurobiology, a concept that is still the subject of controversy in the scientific community.

According to Mancuso, academicians were initially highly skeptical of even a simple concept like “plant behavior” or "plant learning", and until 2005 there was an unspoken ban on a discussion of “plant behavior” in academic circles, but subsequent discoveries have led to the creation of university departments within this research area, as well as the writing of numerous articles and scientific papers. Around the same time, discussion about “bio-inspired plantoid robots” began. These machines could, for example, use a light mechanical system similar to plant roots to restore washed out and / or contaminated soils. Some scientists still refuse to talk about the intelligence of plants and even about their "consciousness", as this leads to new philosophical questions, for example: if plants perceive wounds or aggression, and then respond to them, carrying out various biochemical processes[41], is it possible to draw analogies with pain in animals here? In 2008, a petition signed by thirty-six European and North American biologists urged to avoid using the term “plant neuroscience” in scientific usage. On the other hand, the hypothesis of a common intelligence in plants seems to immediately attract the attention of the general public.

Nevertheless, cultural and even theoretical prerequisites still hinder the quantitative and qualitative assessment (through experiments in particular) of the cognitive abilities of plants. The scientific methodology for assessing intelligence itself was originally built to study humans and animals[42] (artificial intelligence studies have been added to this relatively recently).

The very idea of giving plants rights to protect their dignity similar to animals, proposed by Mancuso, is still shocking to many people, both in terms of philosophy and politics. For Mancuso, providing plants with certain rights means, above all, protecting the people themselves, who are completely dependent on plants for providing oxygen, food, and biodegradable fibers. If a person wants to emigrate to another lifeless planet, then he will have to do this together with other organisms, including plants, on which we are completely dependent. Mancuso therefore argues that humanity should be interested in ensuring that the protection of the living conditions and plant diversity takes place, including at the legislative level.[43]


  • :it:Premio Nazionale di Divulgazione - National Award for Scientific Dissemination, 2013
  • Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres - Award of the Austrian Ministry of Research and Economy for the Book of the Year, 2016
  • :it:Premio letterario Galileo per la divulgazione scientifica — “Plant revolution: le piante hanno già inventato il nostro futuro” book, May 21, 2018
  • Tignano festival award - environment award on the Tignano festival, July 18, 2019

In the media



  1. "Stefano Mancuso". publications indexed by Google Scholar. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  2. "Stefano Mancuso's books examples". Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  3. "Stefano Mancuso's current academic rank and department information". The University Of Florence official website. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  4. "Membership list of the LINV project". The International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology official website. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  5. "The Society of Plant Signaling and Behavior steering committee list". The Society of Plant Signaling and Behavior official website. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  6. "Editorial board list of the Plant Signaling & Behavior journal". Taylor & Francis Group website. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  7. "Academic list 2019". The Accademia dei Georgofili official website. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  8. "Il georgofilo Stefano Mancuso è uno dei "20 italiani che ci cambieranno la vita"". Information newsletter by the Accademia dei Georgofili. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  9. "Stefano Mancuso's interview on the french radio" (in français). France Culture radio (April 20, 2019). Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  10. "LINV AT FIRST GLANCE". The International Laboratory for Plant Neurobiology official website. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  11. "The interview with Stefano Mancuso by Frederic Mouchon. April 8, 2018. Stefano Mancuso, l'homme qui murmure a l'oreille des plantes" (in français). Le Parisien. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  12. "Stefano Mancuso. The roots of plant intelligence". Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  13. "The interview with Stefano Mancuso by Frederic Mouchon. April 8, 2018. Stefano Mancuso, l'homme qui murmure a l'oreille des plantes" (in français). Le Parisien. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  14. Mancuso, Stefano; Temperini, Renaud; Viola, Alessandra (4 April 2018). L Intelligence des plantes. ISBN 9782226430120. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  15. "The Jellyfish Barge project" (in italiano). Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  16. Molinier J., Ries G., Zipfel C., Hohn B. (2006) Transgeneration memory of stress in plants. Nature Research Journal 422:1046-1049
  17. Ginsburg S., Jablonka E. (2009) Epigenetic learning in non-neural organisms. Journal of Biosciences 34:633-646
  18. Gagliano M., Renton M., Depczynski M. & Mancuso S. (2014) Experience teaches plants to learn faster and forget slower in environments where it matters. Oecologia, 175(1), 63-72.
  19. Applewhite PB (1972) Behavioral plasticity in the sensitive plant, Mimosa. Behav Biol 7:47-53
  20. Cahill J. Jr, Bao T., Maloney M., Kolenosky C. (2013) Mechanical leaf damage causes localized, but not systematic, changes in leaf movement behaviour of the sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica. Botany 91:43-47
  21. Trewavas A. (2003) Aspects of plant intelligence. Annals of Botany 92:1-20
  22. Trewavas A. Plant intelligence. Naturwissenschaften 2005a;92:401-13.
  23. Trewavas A. Green plants as intelligent organisms. Trends Plant Sci 2005 ;10:413-9.
  24. Trewavas A. Response to Alpi et al.: Plant neurobiology — all metaphors have value. Trends in Plant Science 2007; 12:231
  25. Baluska F., Mancuso S., Volkmann D., & Barlow, P. W. (2010) Root apex transition zone: a signaling-response nexus in the root. Trends in plant science, 15(7), 402—408.
  26. Baluska F., & Mancuso S. (2013). Root apex transition zone as oscillatory zone. Frontiers in Plant Science, 4, 354.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Baluska F., Mancuso S., Volkmann D., & Barlow P. (2004) Root apices as plant command centres: the unique ‘brain-like’status of the root apex transition zone. Biologia, 59(Suppl 13), 7-19.
  28. Gagliano M., Mancuso S. & Robert D. (2012) Towards understanding plant bioacoustics. Trends in plant science, 17(6), 323—325.
  29. Zweifel R. & Zeugin F. (2008) Ultrasonic acoustic emissions in drought-stressed trees — more than signals from cavitation? New Phytol. 179, 1070—1079
  30. Yokawa, K., Kagenishi, T., Kawano, T., Mancuso, S., & Baluska, F. (2011). Illumination of Arabidopsis roots induces immediate burst of ROS production. Plant signaling & behavior, 6(10), 1460—1464.
  31. Mancuso, Stefano (2017). Plant revolution: le piante hanno già inventato il nostro futuro. ISBN 9788809831360. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
  32. Volkov A.G, Carrell H., Adesina T., Markin V.S. & Jovanov E. (2008) Plant electrical memory. Plant Signaling & Behavior 3:490-492
  33. Baldwin I.T. & Schmelz E.A (1996) Immunological «memory» in the induced accumulation of nicotine in wild Tobacco. Ecology 77:236-246
  34. Bailly A., Sovero V., Vincenzetti V., Santelia D., Bartnik D., Koenig B. W., … & Geisler M. (2008). Modulation of P-glycoproteins by auxin transport inhibitors is mediated by interaction with immunophilins. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 283(31), 21817-21826.
  35. Mancuso S., Marras A. M., Magnus V., & Baluška F. (2005) Noninvasive and continuous recordings of auxin fluxes in intact root apex with a carbon nanotube-modified and self-referencing microelectrode. Analytical biochemistry, 341(2), 344—351
  36. Brenner E. D., Stahlberg R., Mancuso S., Vivanco J., Baluska F., Van Volkenburgh E. (2006). "Plant neurobiology: an integrated view of plant signaling". Trends in Plant Science (journal) (Trends in Plant Science ed.). Cell Press. 11 (8): 413–419. doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2006.06.009. PMID 16843034.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  37. Trewavas, Anthony (2005). "Green plants as intelligent organisms". Trends in Plant Science (Trends in Plant Science ed.). Cell Press. 10 (9): 413–419. doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2005.07.005. PMID 16054860.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  38. "Stefano Mancuso's interview on the french radio" (in français). France Culture radio (April 20, 2019). Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  39. "Умные муравьи. Часть 1: Симбиоз с растениями от 09.02.2018" (in русский). Retrieved October 6, 2020.
  40. Baluška F., Mancuso S., Volkmann D. & Barlow P. (2009) The ‘root-brain’hypothesis of Charles and Francis Darwin: revival after more than 125 years. Plant signaling & behavior, 4(12), 1121-1127.
  41. Mancuso S. (1999). Hydraulic and electrical transmission of wound-induced signals in Vitis vinifera. Functional Plant Biology, 26(1), 55-61.
  42. Bertrand A. (2018) Penser comme une plante: perspectives sur l'écologie comportementale et la nature cognitive des plantes. Cahiers philosophiques, (2), 39-41.(riassunto)
  43. "Stefano Mancuso's interview on the french radio" (in français). France Culture radio (April 20, 2019). Retrieved October 5, 2020.

External links

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