New Findings on How Plants ‘Talk’ to Each Other: Virginia Tech Scientist

By Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times

Two plants can communicate with each other by swapping messenger molecules, according to new findings by a Virginia Tech scientist.

Jim Westwood, a professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, at Virginia Tech, published his discovery of this hitherto unknown phenomenon on Aug. 15 in the journal Science

He conducted experiments on a parasitic plant, dodder, and host plants, including a tomato plant. He found that the dodder and the tomato plant exchanged thousands of mRNA molecules upon contact with each other.

A dodder plant (Thinkstock)

These molecules are messengers that tell cells which actions to take. So what did the dodder say to the tomato?

In this case, the parasitic plant may have told its host to lower its defenses, explained a Virginia Tech News article. 

Julie Sholes at the University of Sheffield told Virginia Tech News that Westwood’s finding could help save crops from parasitic plants. “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,” she said. “In addition to shedding new light on host-parasite communication, Westwood’s findings have exciting implications for the design of novel control strategies based on disrupting the mRNA information that the parasite uses to reprogram the host.” She is familiar with Westwood’s study, though she was not personally involved.

Westwood will continue his research, trying to discover what exactly the plants are communicating to each other.

Parasitic Plant Time lapse – Virginia Tech from virginiatech on Vimeo.