Researchers have shown for the first time that plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.
University of Adelaide scientists, writing in the journal Nature Communications, report how plants respond to their environment with a similar combination of chemical and electrical responses to animals.
“We’ve known for a long-time that the animal neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is produced by plants under stress, for example when they encounter drought, salinity, viruses, acidic soils or extreme temperatures,” says Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham.
“But it was not known whether GABA was a signal in plants. We’ve discovered that plants bind GABA in a similar way to animals, resulting in electrical signals that ultimately regulate plant growth when a plant is exposed to a stressful environment.”
By identifying how plants respond to GABA the researchers are optimistic that they have opened up many possibilities for modifying how plants respond to stress.
The major stresses agricultural crops face such as drought account for most yield losses around the planet.
By identifying how plants use GABA as a stress signal, science has a new tool to help in the global effort to breed more stress resilient crops.
The work also involved researchers at Australia’s CSIRO , the University of Tasmania, the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal and the University of Maryland in the US.