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Evil Talking Plants Use DNA Communication

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Aug 15, 2014 11:03 AM EDT
dodder
Scientists have discovered what seems like a new form of plant communication between a "vampire" plant and its prey. (Photo : Wiki CC0)

Scientists have discovered what seems like a new form of plant communication between a "vampire" plant and its prey.

As described in a study recently published in the journal Science, weed science expert Jim Westwood of Virginia Tech took a close look at how the parasitic plant called a dodder attacks his host.

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Westwood specifically looked at how the dodder interacted with two host plants, Arabidopsis and tomatoes. It has long been known that dodders are "vampire-like" parasitic plants. Like a nightmare from an alien horror film, the dodder wraps itself around its host. It then uses a long probe to literally tap into its victim and drain their fluids.

Researchers had done previous work that found that when the dodder first sinks its "fang" into its victim, it also begins to transport RNA - a sort-of DNA translator - between it and its host.

This latest study expands on that, finding that a surprising amount of messenger RNA (mRNA) is constantly being exchanged between both plants during the parasitic relationship.

"The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized," Westwood said in a recent release. "Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, 'What exactly are they telling each other?'"

What they found is that like any true vampire, the dodder has a "silver tongue," sweet-talking its victim into lowering its defenses.

With this knowledge, Westwood says, experts can now develop novel ways to fight parasitic weeds that specifically target major crops - namely witchweed and broomrape.

"The beauty of this discovery is that this mRNA could be the Achilles [heel] for parasites," Westwood said. "This is all really exciting because there are so many potential implications surrounding this new information."

 

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