Can Plants Talk to Each Other? Researchers Say Yes

By Allison Bond | June 1, 2009 5:57 pm

sagebrushRemember how plants communicated with each other to exact revenge on humans in The Happening? Although the film didn’t exactly thrill critics, the science may have been more accurate than we think. New research indicates that plants that are genetically related can, in fact, distinguish which plants are in their “family,” just like people or animals. In fact, they can even warn relatives of impending danger.

Researchers at UCSD and Kyoto University cut off shoots from sagebrush plants, thereby creating a genetic copy of the parent plant, and re-planted the copies nearby. After damaging the copy the way a natural predator like a grasshopper would, the researchers waited a year, and found that the parent plants suffered 42 percent less herbivore damage than those that grew next to plants that weren’t genetically related. The researchers say this indicates that plants with family members nearby somehow knew to prepare themselves for an herbivore attack, thereby fending off threats more effectively.

The study, published in Ecology Letters, shows that sagebrush plants can distinguish plants that are genetically similar from those that aren’t—”self” from “non-self” in biology-speak—and the authors think other leafy greens can do it, too. The researchers don’t know how the plants “talked” to each other, but they speculate it might have been through chemical signals.

Hey, as long as the plants don’t gang up on us humans, we don’t see anything wrong with a little plant-to-plant communication.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Make Room For Space Florists: First Plants to Be Grown on the Moon
Discoblog: Your Plants Have More Twitter Followers Than You—Literally
Discoblog: Parasitic Plants Steal RNA, Spy on Their Hosts

Image: flickr / Fool-On-The-Hill


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