A scientist at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has discovered a potentially new plant language, which allows them to share their genetic information with each other. The discovery is expected to help researchers better understand how different plants communicate among themselves at a molecular level.
As part of the study, Jim Westwood, a professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science at Virginia Tech, examined the relationship between a parasitic plant called dodder and two host plants -- tomatoes and Arabidopsis. The findings of the study, published in the journal Science on Friday, are expected to provide scientists with new insights into ways to fight parasitic weeds that harm food crops.
“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 statement. “Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, ‘What exactly are they telling each other?’”
Scientists knew that dodder sucks the moisture and nutrients out of the host plants by using an appendage called a haustorium that helps it penetrate the plant. But Westwood has uncovered that during this parasitic interaction a genetic communication carries out an exchange of RNA, which translates information in the DNA.
In his new study, Westwood explains that during this parasitic relationship, thousands of messenger RNA molecules are being exchanged between the parasite plant and the host plant, allowing them to freely communicate.
According to scientists, the parasitic plants may use this exchange of RNA to dictate the host plant what to do, such as lowering its defenses to make it easier for the parasitic plant to launch an attack. The scientists are also planning to use the findings to examine if other organisms, such a bacteria and fungi, also exchange information in a similar fashion.
“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,” Julie Scholes, a professor at the University of Sheffield, UK, said in the statement.