Plants may use language to communicate with each other

When a dodder plant attacks other plants, such as this beetroot, it is engaging in a sort of communication with the host plant.

When a dodder plant attacks other plants, such as this beetroot, it is engaging in a sort of communication with the host plant.

A Virginia Tech scientist has discovered a potential form of communication that allows plants 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, 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.

Westwood examined the relationship between a parasitic plant, dodder, and two host plants. He found that during this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of mRNA molecules were being exchanged between the plants, creating this open dialogue between the species that allows them to freely communicate.

“Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, ‘What exactly are they telling each other?” said Westwood, whose findings were recently published in the journal Science.

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