A Virginia Tech scientist has discovered a potentially new form of plant communication, one that allows them to share an extraordinary amount of genetic information with one another.
The finding by Jim Westwood, a professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, 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 scientists new insight into ways to fight parasitic weeds that wreak havoc on food crops in some of the poorest parts of the world.
His findings were published on Aug. 15 in the journal Science.
"The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized," said Westwood, who is an affiliated researcher with the Fralin Life Science Institute. "Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, 'What exactly are they telling each other?'."
Westwood examined the relationship between a parasitic plant, dodder, and two host plants, Arabidopsis and tomatoes. In order to suck the moisture and nutrients out of the host plants, dodder uses an appendage called a haustorium to penetrate the plant. Westwood has previously broken new ground when he found that during this parasitic interaction, there is a transport of RNA between the two species. RNA translates information passed down from DNA, which is an organism's blueprint.
His new work expands this scope of this exchange and examines the mRNA, or messenger RNA, which sends messages within cells telling them which actions to take, such as which proteins to code. It was thought that mRNA was very fragile and short-lived, so transferring it between species was unimaginable.
But Westwood found that during this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of mRNA molecules
|Contact: Zeke Barlow|