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The Dime
While I think the idea that plants communicate to each other via chemical emission is fascinating, I struggle to conceive of what a plant would do with such communication. It's most likely the huge gap in my understanding of plants in general, but their overall 'immobile-ness' makes warnings of predators or disease seem somewhat useless to me. Maybe they react in ways that are less visible? Bump up whatever they have for an immune system? Shed sweet tasting leaves? Up the thorn count?

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Just ask Plant Master Flash.

This is actually the tangent related to my research that is the most fascinating to me.

The quick story (ha!) is...with chemical emissions you can call on "predators of predators," like parasitoid wasps that lay eggs in the caterpillars that like to eat a given plant. You can also send out an alarm to other plants, which can lead to their putting out the same call to the wasps. Then plants have internal chemical defenses, poisons or stuff that tastes bad, that they can start producing in repsonse to attack as well. There are also specific proteins plants make that can slow down the ability of the herbivore to digest the leaf. There is a little bit of an immune system that seems to relate mostly to viruses or things generally trying to get their DNA into the plant's genome, but I'm not aware if there is any chemical communication going on there and I don't think it has been studied. Not sure that thorns per se would be increased, but I suspect that things like trichomes or "hairs" might grow denser after attack.

A lot of the stuff I know about really is more on the level of insect predators, although I am doing some applied viral work. We had a postdoc who was more interested in the bacterial end of things, but I don't know much about that and she is still up north so not really accessible as an info source.

But I'm sure that was all way more than you needed to hear anyway....

Re: Just ask Plant Master Flash.

But I'm sure that was all way more than you needed to hear anyway....

That's the second time I've heard that phrase today, and it's still not true. I'm constantly hungry for more knowledge.

Also, I knew you'd have some insight to share on the topic, and I quickly devour it all! The "predators of predators" makes perfect sense, if I had just bothered to think on the subject long enough. Changing how they taste/digest is fascinating! And as a person who believes in evolution, trying to image how these mechanisms arose and developed is mind-boggling and intense.


Heh, I'm heading up our lab's "journal club" this week, where I get to pick a paper and we all read it on our own, then go through it together over pizza. The article I chose got me thinking about how this stuff evolved. The internal signals are kind of complex, so that a plant can actually distinguish between a random wound and actually being eaten by an insect. Turns out the plant's internal signal that activates a lot of the defenses looks kind of similar to the sorts of compounds that are in insect saliva. And we know saliva is how the plant tells the difference between a random wound and an attack. Hmmm....

I don't get to spend a lot of time thinking about evolution in my own work, but when I do, it's pretty fun. Phytochemistry is such a huge topic, I feel like I'm just getting to the point where I can even ask the right questions to get to the stuff I want to know.

Re: Mmmm...knowledge....

I admire you quite a bit - I can't even begin to fathom all that must be in your brain.

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