Scientists have found that when a plant is bitten by a caterpillar or an insect, it reacts to damage in the same way that an animal would, using the same molecules, even though plants do not have a nervous system.
This reaction has the function of activating a system of “defense”, propagating and sharing the “pain” with other plants, scientists have found.
These surprising conclusions are the result of the work of a group of American botanists, microbiologists, and biochemists who studied the reactions of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small cruciferous plant native to Eurasia and North Africa.
A certain similarity between the reaction of plants and the nervous system of animals is the key idea of the research, according to a summary of the essay written by biologists at the University of Wake Forest (North Carolina).
“Plants are stationary and can not escape from herbivores, so they must respond with chemical defenses to deter them and repair damaged tissue,” the authors explained in the study.
To this end, the plants come to a form of communication by means of calcium ions, which allows them to send signals over long distances.
That implies the need for receptor channels and it was revealed that they are activated by extracellular glutamate, a known neurotransmitter in mammals.
One of the scientists who participated in the study, botanist Simon Gilroy, explained the importance of these discoveries in an article published by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he works.
“We know that there is a systemic system of signals and that, if you hurt [the plant] at one point, the rest of the plant triggers its defensive responses,” he said.
“But we did not know what was behind this system.”
“We do know that if you wound a leaf, you get an electrical charge, and you get a propagation that moves across the plant,” Gilroy adds. What triggered that electric charge, and how it moved throughout the plant, were unknown.
The results of his work were published in the journal Science.