While plants are not living creatures with a nervous system, pain receptors, or thoughts of their own, a new study has found that they’re just like animals when it comes to one particular thing – their cells send out animal-like stress signals.
As unusual as it sounds, an international team of researchers has noticed that the signals that plants send out when they’re stressed are juts like the ones sent by the brains of animals.
Matthew Gilliham, senior author on the study and field expert from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine from the University of Adelaide, gave a statement explaining that plants use these signals in order to regulate growth when they’re facing drought, extreme temperatures, salinity, acidic soils or viruses, and that the message is sent from cell to cell by electrical signals.
Jose Feijo, study contributor from Australia and professor at the University of Maryland, gave a statement on his own saying that “Plant cells are not very isolated”. He went on to add that the neurotransmitter “is able to shuttle from one cell to another pretty rapidly”.
The scientific community is buzzing with excitement as the discovery may lead to the development of new, better meds, as well as innovative technology that makes crops more resilient, helps them fight of viruses, and provides better food security for people.
And on top of this, it also provides field experts with valuable insight into how plants have gotten to be the way they are today. The current working theory is that plant cells took a neurotransmitter known as “gamma-aminobutyric acid” (GABA), then “co-opted it” in order to turn it into a tool that they can use for communicating.
Professor Feijo also felt it was important to inform that the process of evolution is much closer related to the process of tinkering rather than a process with a specific design, so the finding makes perfect sense “from an evolutionary standpoint”.
It’s worth mentioning that the compound used by animals and plants is exactly the same, however the two have very different proteins that bind with it, which means that animals and plants evolved their ability to use the compound independently from one another.
The study was published earlier this week, in the journal Nature Communications