Plants 'talk' to each other via genes

Plants 'talk' to each other via genes

In a surprising discovery, a scientist has discovered a new form of plant communication that allows them to share an extraordinary amount of genetic information with one another.

The finding by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) throws open the door to a new arena of science that explores how plants communicate with each other on a molecular level.

"It also gives us new insight into ways to fight parasitic weeds that wreak havoc on food crops in some of the poorest parts of the world," said Jim Westwood, a professor at college of agriculture and life sciences at Virginia Tech.

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

He has already found that during this parasitic interaction, there is a transport of RNA between the two species.

In the new study, he found that during this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of mRNA molecules were being exchanged between both plants - creating this open dialogue between the species that allows them to freely communicate.

Through this exchange, the parasitic plants may be dictating what the host plant should do, such as lowering its defences so that the parasitic plant can more easily attack it. "The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realised," said Westwood.

"The beauty of this discovery is that this mRNA could be the Achilles hill for parasites," he noted.

Using this information, scientists can now examine if other organisms such a bacteria and fungi also exchange information in a similar fashion.