Plants “talk” to each other and exchange information


By Sarah Griffiths Time of article publishedDec 6, 2017

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Plants use a newly discovered ‘language’ to ‘speak’ to each other, research has revealed.

The finding opens the door to a new area of science that explores how plants communicate with each other on a molecular level.

It could also give scientists new insights into how to fight parasitic weeds that devastate food crops in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Professor Westwood, an expert in plant pathology, physiology and weed science at Virginia Tech, said: “The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realised.

“Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, “What exactly are they telling each other?”‘

Professor Westwood examined the relationship between a parasitic plant called dodder, and two host plants, Arabidopsis and tomatoes. 

In order to suck the moisture and nutrients out of the host plants, dodder uses a root-like appendage called a haustorium to penetrate the plant.

Professor Westwood has previously discovered that during this parasitic interaction, there is a transport of RNA between the two species.  

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a family of large biological molecules that code and decode information passed down from its DNA.

His new work expands the scope of this exchange and examines the mRNA, or messenger RNA, which sends messages within cells telling them which actions to take, such as which proteins to code.  

It was thought that mRNA was very fragile and short-lived, so transferring it between species was impossible.

But Professor Westwood found that during this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of mRNA molecules were being exchanged between both plants, creating an open dialogue between the species that allows them to freely communicate.

Through this exchange, the parasitic plants may be instructing the host plant to lower its defences so that they can more easily attack it.

Professor Westwood’s hopes to discover precisely what the mRNA are ‘saying’.

His findings, published in the journal, Science, will be able to examine if other organisms such a bacteria and fungi also exchange information in a similar fashion. They could also help solve issues of food scarcity.

Commenting on the research, in which she was not involved, Julie Scholes, a professor at Sheffield University, said: ‘Parasitic plants such as witchweed and broomrape are serious problems for legumes and other crops that help feed some of the poorest regions in Africa and elsewhere.

‘In addition to shedding new light on genetic interactions, Professor Westwood’s findings have exciting implications for the design of novel control strategies. 

For example, armed with this new knowledge, scientists could engineer plants that could combat against the mRNA information that the parasite uses to disrupt its host.’

Professor Westwood added: “The beauty of this discovery is that this mRNA could be the Achilles heel for parasites.

“This is all really exciting because there are so many potential implications surrounding this new information.” 

Daily Mail 


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