Plant Adapts to Survive

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 27, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Plant Adapts to Survive


Byline: Betsy Blaney Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas -- No one's talking about giving intelligence tests, but researchers say they've shown that plants have smarts -- the sort needed to help them survive dry times.

Years from now the findings could lead to crops that are better able to withstand drought conditions. Already, studies on two crops have shown they too have short-term memory for surviving dry times, University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher Michael Fromm said.

He contends his team's findings are the first of their kind in life forms above yeasts.

The outcome of Fromm's initial study, with a member of the mustard family, confirmed what many nursery professionals and home gardeners have observed: Stressing plants helps them adapt and aids them in surviving transplanting.

"It's important that it's in all plants, but the next part of the story will have to move the research forward," Fromm said. "There's no question this is a critical long-term problem. Drought tolerance is extremely important but it's also extremely difficult."

He declined to name the two crops he and his team studied subsequent to work with Arabidopsis -- the mustard plant -- citing confidentiality issues with the peer-reviewed journal scheduled to publish those results later this year.

In the mustard plant research, Fromm and his team compared reactions of plants stressed by withholding water to those that got water.

The ones that went without water -- the trained or stressed plants -- bounced back more quickly the next time they got dehydrated.

There were changes at a molecular level when the trained plants were deprived of water again. When water was then made available, the changes reverted back to normal levels. "There's a connection between the environmental stress, the drought, and the plant response with not only physiological changes but developmental changes," Fromm said.

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