According to a recent study, plants use the same chemical as animals do to signal stress and this affects their entire development process.
The study was conducted by the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine from the University of Adelaide and led by researcher Matthew Gilliham, who has worked with his team to study how plants respond to stress and how they cope with it. It was already known that plants produce gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that animals and humans produce, but the researchers wanted to see how they put it to use.
“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,” explained Matthew Gilliham.
The findings of the study revealed that when plants face stressful situations, such as “drought, salinity, viruses, acidic soils or extreme temperatures” they release the GABA. Plants seem to use other substances than animals do to bind the GABA, therefore the entire route is different, but the role remains fairly similar.
Matthew Gilliham and his team have also revealed that the plants change the way they develop according to the electrical signals, that could translate in a difference in the growth of the rout or the leaves, or in the orientation of the plant.
The researchers point out that this discovery bares great importance, as it could lead to the development of more resistant plants in the future, that could be more resistant to harsh environment factors. This could be of great use in regions of the world where plants do not grow successfully, but also in the fight against climate change, as stronger plants could withstand the challenges that we might be faced with in the future.
Also, the presence of the GABA-based system in the plants could contribute to the tremendous success that phytotherapy, commonly known as herbal medicine, has on humans and even animals.
The findings of the study have been recently published in the scientific journal Nature Communications. This is just the first phase of this plant physiology project, as more extensive research is expected to be conducted on the matter in the near future.
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