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If you put alcohol instead of water to a plant, what happens to the plant?
Question Date: 2012-11-28
Answer 1:

This is an interesting question and I think it really highlights the wide variety that can be found in living organisms! The answer to your question, simply put, is: it depends on the plant and what kind of alcohol you give it.

Different organisms have slightly different enzymes, which you can think of as a little factory that converts one chemical into another chemical. In the case of alcohol, the enzyme of interest is called "alcohol dehydrogenase" -- but it turns out there are many types of alcohol dehydrogenase. These dehydrogenases are found in many living organisms, but they vary between different species (i.e. even from plant to plant, and mammal to mammal). To further complicate things, there are different kinds of alcohols!

So let's talk about a couple of examples to give you an idea.

1. When you give a plant ethanol -- the kind of alcohol people drink -- in many cases its growth will be stunted, or even worse: it will die. Poor plant! (By the way, even moderate amounts of alcohol will shrink the human brain. You can Google images of brains and numbers of brain cells!)

2. However, giving a plant methanol -- the kind that people should never drink! -- can actually stimulate growth in plants! As with many things in biology, the answer is complicated! I hope this helps!

Answer 2:

It dies - alcohol is toxic, and it's not water. I'm not sure exactly what the killing mechanism would be.

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