Plants get stressed too; send out animal-like signals

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Researchers have found that though plants lack a nervous system, they use signals normally associated with animals when in stress.

Carried out by researchers at University of Adelaide and published in journal Nature Communications, the study shows how plants respond to their environment – specifically stressful one – with a combination of chemical and electrical responses that is similar to those used by animals, but through a machinery that is specific to plants.

Researchers have long known that animal neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is produced by plants under stressful conditions like drought, salinity, viruses, acidic soils or extreme temperatures, but they didn’t know whether GABA was a signal in plants.

Senior author of the study and Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham, said “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.”

Researchers are optimistic that their finding will possibly pave wave for new possibilities wherein scientists will be able to modifying how plants respond to stress and possibly breed more stress resilience so as to amp up food production and fend off food insecurity vows.

Researchers have revealed the proteins that bind GABA with their mammalian counterparts only resemble each other in the region where they interact with the neurotransmitter – the rest of the protein looks quite different.

“This raises very interesting questions about how GABA has been recruited as a messenger in both plant and animal kingdoms,” says co-lead author Dr Sunita Ramesh. “It seems likely that this has evolved in both kingdoms separately.”

The researchers say these findings could also explain why particular plant-derived drugs used as sedatives and anti-epileptics work in humans. These drugs are able to interact with proteins in the GABA-signalling system in both plants and animals ? suggesting that future work on other plant GABA signalling agents will also benefit the medical field.