Plants Recognize Family Tree

Science Scope, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Plants Recognize Family Tree


Plants may not have eyes and ears, but they can recognize their siblings, and researchers at the University of Delaware have discovered how. The ID system lies in the roots and the chemical cues they secrete. The finding not only sheds light on the intriguing sensing system in plants, but also may have implications for agriculture and even home gardening.

The study was led by Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware. Canadian researchers published in 2007 that sea rocket, a common seashore plant, can recognize its siblings--plants grown from seeds from the same mother. Susan Dudley, an evolutionary plant ecologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and her colleagues observed that when siblings are grown next to each other in the soil, they "play nice" and don't send out more roots to compete with one another. However, the moment one of the plants is thrown in with strangers, it begins competing with them by rapidly growing more roots to take up the water and mineral nutrients in the soil.

Bais, who has conducted a variety of research on plant signaling systems, read Dudley's study and wanted to find the mechanism behind the sibling recognition. …

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