To communicate with others, we, the people, have different languages. But what about other animals and plants? Well, according to a scientist, plants talk to each other using language.
Jim Westwood, professor of plant pathology and physiology at Virginia Tech in the US, made this discovery by looking at the interactions between a parasitic plants called a dodder (also known as Cuscuta) and two types of host plants – a small flowering plant called an Arabidopsis, and a tomato plant. Dodders use a creeping appendage called a haustorium to penetrate their host plants and feed on their nutrients.
On the other hand, in previous studies, Westwood had discovered that during this interaction, RNA molecules – which play a crucial role in coding, decoding, regulating, and expressing information passed down from DNA – were being passed between the two species. And recently, Westwood looked into the possibility that a special type of RNA molecules – mRNA, or messenger RNA – were also being transported between the parasitic and host plants. Messenger RNA molecules send messages within cells, instructing them on which actions to take and when. In simple words, Westwood found that the parasitic plants ‘talk’ to its hosts on a molecular level, swapping DNA information.
Westwood has said, “The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized. This is all really exciting because there are so many potential implications surrounding this new information. Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, ‘What exactly are they telling each other?’.”
Other than giving us a much deeper insight into the behaviour of plants, this information could help scientists come up with better solutions to fight the parasitic weeds that threaten food crops in developing countries around the world. Westwood’s research has been published in the journal Science.