Plants talk to each other, according to a new study conducted by Dr. David Johnson at the University of Aberdeen.
Dr. Johnson claims that plants use soil to tell nearby plants when they have been infected with certain diseases. Once warned, other plants activate genes that help keep them healthy.
According to the study, the key to plants talking is a soil fungus that acts as a messenger.
The group shared its findings with The Economist and noted that certain plants have a symbiotic relationship with soil. Scientists have known for some time that plants deliver food and the fungus delivers minerals. Now they also claim that fungal hyphae creates a network in the soil that connects to various plants in the surrounding area.
The group points to a 2010 Chinese study in which researchers took a tomato plant infected with a leaf blight and realized that nearby tomato plants were reacting before infection. The 2010 study showed a relationship, but researchers weren’t sure how plants were communicating.
Dr. David Johnson and his team used Broad Bean plants to study the communication first released by the Chinese researchers.
To prove that some type of communication existed, the team set up a series of “mesocosms” of five bean stalks each. Because beans are often attacked by aphids, researchers were able to examine a chemical that is released by the beans, which attracts aphids attacking wasps.
According to the team:
“Five weeks after the experiment began, all the plants were covered by bags that allowed carbon dioxide, oxygen and water vapour in and out, but stopped the passage of larger molecules, of the sort a beanstalk might use for signalling. Then, four days from the end, one of the 40-micron meshes in each mesocosm was rotated to sever any hyphae that had penetrated it, and the central plant was then infested with aphids.”
Check out the full Economist article for all of the researchers findings.