Saturday, July 29, 2017

When the Enemy is Also Your Friend ... If You're a Plant #Science #Botany #Parasitism

In nature, dodder entwines different plant species.  The host plants exchange ecologically important information about herbivore attack via the parasitic network. 

Credit: J. Zhang, Chinese Academy of Sciences

A team of scientists from the Kunming Institute of Botany in China and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena has discovered that parasitic plants of the genus Cuscuta (dodder) not only deplete nutrients from their host plants, but also function as important "information brokers" among neighboring plants, when insects feed on host plants. Dodder, a parasitic vine, grows rapidly, entwining and parasitizing its host plants by inserting haustoria (a special organ that only parasitic plants have and functions somewhat similarly as roots) into the host plants' stems. The dodder vines can often connect different host plants together forming a network. If any plant in the network is attacked by herbivores, expressions of defense genes in the unattacked neighboring plants are activated. The plants are now on alert and become more resistant to their enemies.  Host plants communicate warning signals through a parasite network, when insects attack

There are as many political metaphors as you like but let's go with the gentlest since the host plants don't mount an attack in response to the invaders but they do mount a unanimous defense.

These types of interrelationships between organisms have made for some of the most extraordinary revelations in recent decades of science.  The phenomenon observed with the dodder vine is not the same as in the studies by Richard Dawkins, at least before his head started shooting bottle rockets, but Dawkins' work showed extraordinary understanding of the DNA of one organism by the DNA of another.  An example of that is when a wasp can inject a caterpillar with some material which begins controlling the caterpillar's behavior.

There's the Great Circle of Life and all of us grok that one but the Great Circle has all manner of circles within it and the example of the dodder vine is another one.

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