Scientists have filmed neighboring plants “chatting” and receiving warning messages from each other in groundbreaking footage.
Since the 1980s, scientists have known that neighboring plants communicate with each other as soon as any danger or attack is detected in their vicinity.
However, scientists didn’t understand exactly how plants received these warning messages from their neighbors.
Now, a team of scientists at Saitama University in Japan have managed to film the communication between plants in incredible footage — using real-time imaging techniques to reveal how plants receive danger signals from their neighbors.
How Scientists Filmed Plants ‘Talking’
According to Science Alert, plants are surrounded by a fine mist of airborne compounds — which is imperceptible to humans — that they use to communicate and protect themselves. These compounds can warn neighboring plants of incoming assailants.
In a study published in Nature Communications, scientists explained how they genetically altered the plants so that their cells contained a biosensor that fluoresced green when an influx of calcium ions was detected. Human cells also use calcium signalling to communicate.
Science Alert reports that the scientists then rigged up a pump to transfer volatile organic compounds emitted by injured and insect-riddled plants onto their undamaged neighbors.
The team of scientists also set up an imaging system using plants expressing a fluorescent “Ca2+ biosensor” that could record the moments the volatile organic compounds were taken up by other plants.
They then used a fluorescence microscope to watch what happened.
“We constructed equipment to pump volatile organic compounds emitted from plants fed by caterpillars onto undamaged neighboring plants and combined it with a wild-field, real-time fluorescent imaging system,” team leader Professor Masatsugu Toyota says in a statement.
In the resulting video, the scientists witnessed how the undamaged plants clearly receive the airborne danger cues from their uninjured neighbors, responding with bursts of calcium signaling that rippled across their outstretched leaves.
“We have finally unveiled the intricate story of when, where, and how plants respond to airborne ‘warning messages’ from their threatened neighbors,” Professor Toyota continues.
“This ethereal communication network, hidden from our view, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding neighboring plants from imminent threats in a timely manner.”
Image credits: All photos by “Green leaf volatile sensory calcium transduction in Arabidopsis” in Nature Communications.