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Thread: Plants can recognize rivals and fight, study says

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    Tropical Fish Enthusiast jimscott's Avatar
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    Plants can recognize rivals and fight, study says

    Greenery grows more roots to absorb resources when next to ‘strangers’

    Plants can't see or hear, but they can recognize their siblings, and now researchers have found out how: They use chemical signals secreted from their roots, according to a new study.

    Back in 2007, Canadian researchers discovered that a common seashore plant, called a sea rocket, can recognize its siblings — plants grown from seeds from the same plant, or mother. They saw that when siblings are grown next to each other in the soil, they "play nice" and don't send out more roots to compete with one another.

    But as soon as one of the plants is thrown in with strangers, it begins competing with them by rapidly growing more roots to take up the water and mineral nutrients in the soil.
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    Researchers from the University of Delaware wanted to find out how the plants were able to identify their kin.

    "Plants have no visible sensory markers, and they can't run away from where they are planted," Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware, said in a statement. "It then becomes a search for more complex patterns of recognition."

    Bais and doctoral student Meredith Biedrzycki set up a study with wild populations of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant that is often used as a model organism in plant research.

    They wanted to use wild populations instead of laboratory-bred species, because the latter "always has cousins floating around in the lab," Bais said.

    In a series of experiments, young seedlings were exposed to liquid containing the root secretions, called "exudates," from siblings, from strangers (non-siblings), or only their own exudates.

    The length of the longest lateral root and of the hypocotyl, the first leaf-like structure that forms on the plant, were measured. A lateral root is a root that extends horizontally outward from the primary root, which grows downward.

    Plants exposed to strangers had greater lateral root formation than the plants that were exposed to siblings.

    Further, when sibling plants grow next to each other, their leaves will often touch and intertwine, while stranger plants near each other grow rigidly upright and avoid touching, the authors say.

    In future studies, Bais hopes to examine questions such as: How might sibling plants grown in large monocultures, like corn, be affected? Are they more susceptible to pathogens? And how do they survive without competing?

    "It's possible that when kin are grown together, they may balance their nutrient uptake and not be greedy," Bais speculates.

    The research also may have implications for the home gardener.

    "Often we'll put plants in the ground next to each other and when they don't do well, we blame the local garden center where we bought them, or we attribute their failure to a pathogen," Bais said. "But maybe there's more to it than that."

    The study, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, will be published in the January/February 2010 issue of the journal Communicative & Integrative Biology.

  2. #2
    The Consuming Flame EdaxFlamma's Avatar
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    Awesome you posted this, I was talking with Dr. Bais about some undergraduate research this summer earlier in the year and my boss just mentioned this the other day at work. Very interesting!
    Trying to rebuild. Feel free to PM me with questions.

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    do you have a link to this article? i'm sure the wife would like it for her class.

    ---------- Post added at 09:01 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:59 AM ----------

    edit: never mind - found it.

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    Hello, I must be going... Not a Number's Avatar
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    Whew! I was worried my Sarracenia minor would start arm (pitcher) wrasslin' or sompin.
    Grand Hotel... always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.

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    BigBella's Avatar
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    Allelopathic plants have been recognized for decades. Many trees secrete chemicals into the surrounding soil to create a "zone of inhibition" preventing the germination of other species -- and sometimes their own, to reduce competition; and the chemicals themselves can be quite noxious -- from various phenols (anti-grazing compounds), coumarins (rodenticides), terpenoids (potential pesticides), and cyanogenic glycosides (chemically converted to hydrogen cyanide should a plant be attacked).

    There is nothing particularly peaceable about the plant kingdom at all; and there are even plants which are carnivorous -- or so I've read in the back of a comic book . . .

    “Sì perché l'autorità dell'opinione di mille nelle scienze non val per una scintilla di ragione di un solo . . ."

    -- Galileo "Biff" Galilei

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    mark.ca's Avatar
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    You're right BigBella...it's not only to inhibit other species but also their own!
    I have seen the secretions in some of the TC plants...brown areas around the roots. You can easy notice how plants stay smaller when planted too close and always the ones on the exterior of the group grow stronger and bigger...i suspect it's more due to secretions than to the lack of light.
    Best regards,
    Marius

    My Website: http://droseragemmae.com/

  8. #8
    The Consuming Flame EdaxFlamma's Avatar
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    I always thought that the "brown rings" seen in tissue culture were just tannins. Perhaps a bit of both?
    Trying to rebuild. Feel free to PM me with questions.

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