How Tomatoes Fend Off Parasitic Vines
When medieval guards spotted invaders in the distance, they’d pull up the drawbridge and fortify their castle’s defenses. A horse that senses biting flies will flick its tail. The whine of a mosquito’s wings is our cue to start swatting. Plants under attack can’t do any of these things, but that doesn’t mean they’re helpless. Researchers say some tomato plants can sense and defend themselves against encroaching parasitic vines. They published their findings this week in the journal Science.
Plants’ ability to converts sunlight into nutrients, combined with their inability to run away, makes them juicy targets for bugs, microbes, fungi, and parasitic vines. Experts estimate that parasitic plants alone cause billions of dollars of agricultural damage every year [PDF].
But plants aren’t going down without a fight. Many species have evolved physical defenses like thorns, while others turn to chemical warfare, pumping out terrible-tasting or toxic compounds as soon as they sense a threat. They’re vigilant monitors of chemical signals in their environments, and can even identify invading microbes by their molecules. One plant even farts in the face of danger.
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