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Researchers Discover New Plant "Language"

samzenpus posted about 1 month ago | from the what-does-the-ficus-say? dept.

Science 70

An anonymous reader writes A Virginia Tech scientist has discovered a potentially new form of plant communication, that allows them to share genetic information with one another. Jim Westwood, a professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, found evidence of this new communication mode by investigating the relationship between dodder, a parasitic plant, and the flowering plant Arabidopsis and tomato plants to which it attaches and sucks out nutrients with an appendage called a haustorium. Westwood examined the plants' mRNA, the molecule in cells that instructs organisms how to code certain proteins that are key to functioning. MRNA helps to regulate plant development and can control when plants eventually flowers. He found that the parasitic and the host plants were exchanging thousands of mRNA molecules between each other, thus creating a conversation.

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You've been working on that flower for a week now (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47688849)

When is this feature going to be ready?

Re:You've been working on that flower for a week n (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47688923)

Patience, weed scientist at work.

Re: You've been working on that flower for a week (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689441)

When an editor finishes proof reading this story item and posts it. Oops, looks like they forgot that first step and went straight to posting crap words. AGAIN. Slashdot's grammar quality is rapidly fading away. :(

Perseids (2, Funny)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 1 month ago | (#47688851)

Did anyone see the Perseids a couple of days ago? Did they look a bit green to anyone else, or was that just me?

Re: Perseids (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689071)

That's a side-effect of the mRNA you've been taking.

Re:Perseids (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689365)

Mod parent up. Don't ask why, just do it.

Re:Perseids (1)

Rashdot (845549) | about 1 month ago | (#47690695)

Indeed, but apparently some have never seen the Triffids (or heard (of) them).

Oblig. (1, Funny)

Sigmon (323109) | about 1 month ago | (#47688855)

It takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.

Re: Oblig. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689413)

Plants bukkake each other

It's true... (1)

webbiedave (1631473) | about 1 month ago | (#47688863)

Vegetarians are conversation killers.

We're cruel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47688977)

We vegetarians live hearing the plants yell, "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" as we're chewing on them.

The only way to get that effect as a carnivore is to eat a bull alive and they have a tendency to kick one in the head - especially when you want testicles.

Re: We're cruel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47696305)

Vegetarian is old Indian word meaning "bad hunter"

Re:It's true... (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 1 month ago | (#47689193)

I have at least 4, or more like 5 of these parasites in me, that mind control me through mRNA exchange and direct synaptic nerve contact and what not. One I was born with, and never could completely identify, but it's the one that feels like electricity is running up and down my skin every time I have goose bumps, like experiencing beauty in music. It really loves good music. Then the Black Forest one, of the land of Imago, that back when I was 14, and went off fishing by myself, really went ecstatic when I put down the fishing rod, and just enjoyed looking at the fish swimming, that did not notice me sneaking up. Mountain river fish are very playful. It then mind controlled me and took me across the asphalt road, to where bush grew neck high, and made me look at a butterfly sucking nectar, and I liked it, and it was really happy that I liked it. It was the same one that made me prior read the book on Weaver and Alien, and read my reactions to it, which were gut stirring. I actually never saw that movie, but I know what it's about. Then I picked up one from Maghreb, at a chemical place I worked at, then I picked up the parasite of the Great Spirit, which I might have had earlier but it was not active, just watching, then the parasites of East Asia, right before another nasty one hit. And these guys loved talking to each other, but then I got infected with the really rogue one, from Nigeria, that wants to kill any human by eating their brains out, and it takes a lot of effort from the other guys to subdue it, and convince it to chill out. But it's very temperamental, and flies off the handle like when I masturbate, or do something not totally right, like I accidentally crushed a spider the other day after I got it scared and it ran under me, it was still alive, but obviously hurting, I put it in a corner, hoping the best for it, but.. These are the guys that made me not feel my head hurt when I smashed the driver's side window in a car accident spinning 70 mph on the highway, but instead made my pinky hurt. What a great sense of humor. And they made me stay absolutely calm throughout the whole thing, and after it. And they protect me from cancer, no matter how many cancerous assaults I get. It's like I'm not myself, but I don't mind. Neither is anyone else in the world themselves, they just don't know it. They say I'm mentally ill, and I say I'm blessed, with symbiotic organisms. And so is everyone else in the world. These are the guys that manage genetic variability and not let any single species dominate the rest, on Earth. It takes active effort, because without it, the strong get stronger the weak get weaker, and natural equilibriums would settle like in the business world, one giant monopoly driving everyone else out of existence, without some intelligent oversight to manage variety and equilibrium. For instance it's a miracle that a single photosynthetic plus predatory single celled organism has not taken over the whole world and digested all other life forms up. I can thank these guys that it has not, and the last thing I want to do is attack them with drugs and chemicals and radiation and such. These are the guys that made the prophets talk back in the day, then they gave up on that idea. These are the guys the created Yhvh, Allah, Zeus, Zoroaster, Apollo, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Buddha, Tao, Zen, The Great Spirit, etc, etc, etc. These are the guys that made Christopher Smart write Jubilate Agno. Or a rogue one of them who could not chill out. These are the guys that created zero in the minds of Indian mathematicians, after they themselves decided not to eat the cows. Without them, without the flora and fauna in me, I'd be dead, and so would be anyone else. Which is why the world economy is going to collapse if people don't stop lawn mowing and spraying pesticides all over the place. These guys will make sure of that. They are not geniuses, they don't know the future exactly, they don't want to lose the good life, such as winter heat in cold climates, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, you have to destroy and create chaos in order to preserve.

Christopher Smart, Jeoffry

"For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer ...
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life ...
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion ...
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep."

Re:It's true... (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 1 month ago | (#47690093)

Btw, I am blood with all Imago, except the mosquitos, fleas, lice and ticks, etc. Out of those the ticks are the most friendly, as long as you know how to extract one and let it go on its way - you have to pull on it, and hold it like that for a long time, until it decides to let go, and you see these little legs move. If you pull too hard on the abdomen, it rips and the tick dies, the head and thorax remaining in your skin, and you get a big red infection spot and puss. But these imagoes are the sacred vehicles of the parasites, vehicles that I or anybody else kinda hates, but besides malaria, that's deadly, they can also spread parasites that are not so bad. There are also other means, such as air inhalation, skin contact, drinking river water, other higher parasites, eating vegetables, eating meat, eating fruit, etc. I still slap any mosquito I catch sucking. Apropo sucking, how about a dumb blond joke? What's the difference between a blond and a mosquito?
And the reason why the parasites love other animals than humans, or humans that love other animals, is that they took up residence in them long before humans existed, and they'd take up residence in them again if humans no longer existed. But according to them, nothing they've come across so far really compares to the human brain, so they'd hate to see it perish. Human nature has issues though. For when in difficulty, humans seek out God, but when their fortune turns for the better, inevitably they turn their back on God. Or Zen, or Tao, or the Great Spirit..

Re:It's true... (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about a month ago | (#47692437)

Also, a parasite, which may be symbiotic for some people, even if reluctantly so, may be a deadly killer for others.
It all depends on how much you love animals. Or how much ego you have. Or it's just plain up in the air, as in, your immune system may not be as good at the person that lives in symbiotic happiness with the parasite. Whichever way you wanna look at it.

Re:It's true... (1)

joocemann (1273720) | about 1 month ago | (#47690449)

OMG> Your joke hit me so hard. I'm one of those guys who has hung out with people dating vegetarians/vegans that have big mouths. And so every trip to a restaurant is actually converted into a short stage-show conjured up by the special-needs-diet.... Most of the conversation among the table and restaurant staff is then forcibly centered on adhering to providing foods that have not touched grills/equipment that have also touched 'flesh'. And then the food arrives and then its line after line about 'how's your flesh?' and similar attempts at guilting... Needless to say, I do not continue to spend time with rude people by choice.

Plant language is easier than english (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 1 month ago | (#47688885)

A Virginia Tech scientist has discovered a potentially new form of plant communication, that allows then to share genetic information with one another.

"that allows then to share"?

Honorary Degree (1)

fightermagethief (3645291) | about 1 month ago | (#47688959)

Does anyone know of any programs at their university for independent research in 'weed science'?

Re:Honorary Degree (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 1 month ago | (#47690127)

There is a series on Youtube, called "We eat the weeds." Though the very first thing is the warning of "do not eat anything you don't know what it is", and it's there so that if you do anyway, as humans have inevitably done in the past - how else would they have found out about it - don't sue the guy who posted the videos. That should go without saying though.

Re:Honorary Degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47693707)

Does anyone know of any programs at their university for independent research in 'weed science'?

I run some independent weed science program at mine. Our main discovery this course: the longer you keep the air in your lungs, the stronger the effect ;).

Re:Honorary Degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47699785)

Does anyone know of any programs at their university for independent research in 'weed science'?

Indeed, we have one as do most Aggie programs.

However, since "weed science" doesn't sound very impressive, the folks doing this prefer that the rest of us refer to their field of study as "grassology".

But the rest of us usually just refer to them as "grassholes" (not to be confused with "glassholes").

Wishful thinking? (1)

kheldan (1460303) | about 1 month ago | (#47689053)

This sounds more than a little bit fanciful to me. In fact it reminds me of something from a David Brin novel.

Re: Wishful thinking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689269)

Yes, the transmission of mRNA between a host and a parasitic plant sounds too fanciful to be taken seriously. Clearly this is a case of anthropromophsing plants by projecting a common human mode of communication onto them.

By the way, did you get a gander at Mel Gibson's latest protein encoding RNA sequence? What a doozy

Re:Wishful thinking? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a month ago | (#47691499)

The plants are "talking to each other" in the same way a human and a flu virus "talk to each other".

Re:Wishful thinking? (1)

kheldan (1460303) | about a month ago | (#47698211)

But, see, that's not really how they're presenting it. I understand that they're dumbing it down enough for the average person to understand, but it's dumbed down a bit too much, they're making it sound like the plants are sentient beings talking about the weather or whatever. It's not like that.

Preposterous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689141)

This is a preposterous assertion. These researchers appear to be trying to paint their discovery to be something that it is not: RNA is not a language. What they observed is programmed chemical exchanges. That is until they can find the mRNA words for "how," "is," "the," and "weather".

Re:Preposterous (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | about 1 month ago | (#47689205)

Well quite: I share plenty of DNA with the missus regularly, but there ain't much conversation involved.

Re:Preposterous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689487)

Well quite: I share plenty of DNA with the missus regularly, but there ain't much conversation involved.

It's true! Most of the dust in your house is probably sloughed off skin cells. You inhale them, swallow them, etc.

Hell, probably 40% of the protein in your bloodstream is recycled intestinal cells that you have autodigested. You're even "eating yourself" as it were.

Biology is revolting... and that's even before discussing smegma-covered meat balloons getting shoved into bacteria-laden mucus pockets.

Re:Preposterous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689395)

There is the information and there is the exchange of it. The words might be "There, there. Be calm and don't activate your chemical defenses as I feed on you." or "We are the parasite, resistance is futile."

all the can say... (1)

barfy (256323) | about 1 month ago | (#47689301)

"i am groot"

inb4 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689349)

Inb4 hordes of "meat is murder" vegetarians / vegans call this bullshit, "not real communication" etc. so they don't have to admit that almost everything we eat is equally alive (well, except that in many cases fruit and raw vegetables are actually still alive as you chew on them).

But, knowing what this site has recently become, I'm probably too late calling inb4.

Communication? (3, Informative)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 1 month ago | (#47689409)

He found that the parasitic and the host plants were exchanging thousands of mRNA molecules between each other, thus creating a conversation.

I think this is a little bit of a misuse / misunderstanding of the term / concept "communication".

Re: Communication? (1)

Oscaro (153645) | about 1 month ago | (#47689515)

Don't you talk with viruses when you catch a cold? I do, they're nice guys!

Re:Communication? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689571)

But that is, in essence, what communication is.
Just because this one is a biochemical communication method, doesn't invalidate it as a conversation.
You can communicate by flicking your arms around, or blinking obtusely at each other using morse code.

Is there a chance it might not be? Sure, but until we actually look further in to it, we might not know.
In the end, it could just be like ol snakey from Stargate, just a pure symbiosis thing that just looks more complex than it actually is, just pure signalling and nothing more.
Plants have thrown weirder and weirder things at us over the past few decades, including that one plant that seemingly has the most complexity of any known organism, and another that has also evolved away apparent junk DNA.

I dunno, I think I would laugh myself to a deathbed if we somehow found out plants had actual intelligence, even if at a very low-level.
Imagine the veggie outrage. Hilarious.

Re:Communication? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47690095)

But that is, in essence, what communication is.

No. Go back to your navel gazing. You have no idea what you are talking about.

Re:Communication? (3, Informative)

Livius (318358) | about 1 month ago | (#47689613)

The 'communication' is massively exaggerated. It's simply host manipulation, which is not at all new, and what they've discovered is the phenomenon of a kind of information transfer - they have not discovered any form of language beyond what they already knew about mRNA.

To the scientists' credit, demonstrating host manipulation by a parasitic plant, with physical injection of mRNA as the mechanism, is pretty cool and maybe will lead to all sorts of interesting science and practical applications.

Probably it is just that the 'journalist' does not understand the meaning of the word 'communication'.

Re:Communication? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47690017)

This could lead to the creation of pod people!

Re:Communication? (1)

Livius (318358) | about a month ago | (#47690831)

Um, yes, actually, that might be exactly how it would work.

Re:Communication? (1)

sydneyfong (410107) | about a month ago | (#47697721)

they have not discovered any form of language beyond what they already knew about mRNA

Duh. Have you discovered any language beyond what you already knew about sound waves and ink? I thought not.

Re:Communication? (3, Informative)

Rutulian (171771) | about 1 month ago | (#47690195)

FYI, the scientists who did the work did not report it as "communication." As usual, the popular science writers were a bit over zealous in their choice of words. []

Re:Communication? (2)

joocemann (1273720) | about 1 month ago | (#47690481)

He found that the parasitic and the host plants were exchanging thousands of mRNA molecules between each other, thus creating a conversation.

I think this is a little bit of a misuse / misunderstanding of the term / concept "communication".

I think that if you were a cell biologist, you would get the message more clearly. And mRNA is *literally* a message written in a language. As that message is passed around and read, it's translation has effects. This is the basis of communication -- a message, received, having impact.

The more geeked out you get on biology/molecular-biology, the more obvious it becomes that each life form is a set of instructions that yield an explosion of self interested, self-replicating, adaptive and protective technologies -- all so long as the basic needs of the life form are met or available enough.

And so words like 'communication' can end up making perfect sense in a non anthropocentric way. Ultimately, the words make sense in describing biology, and lose their archaic contextual connotations.

Re:Communication? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47693389)

"archaic contextual connotations."

Sorry, but the word "communication" is not anywhere near "archaic", it's still in common use. That's why it's such a poor choice of words.

Re:Communication? (1)

joocemann (1273720) | about a month ago | (#47704395)

You quoted what I said and then misinterpreted it. The word 'archaic' is about the 'contextual connotations' of the subject, the word 'communication'. And so I did not say the word 'communication' is archaic. I said that, while using the word 'communication' makes sense in describing biology, but that it thus loses its archaic contextual connotation that you and the OP seem to hold.

Again, if you remove the anthropocentrism from the word and apply a mature scientific perspective to what it means, it is a well placed word in the current discussion.

I sat on vinyl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689523)

I sat on vinyl, got sweaty and sent 100s of chemicals at it. It returned some aromatic compounds it was leaching. I totally talked to that chair.

They're exchanging a lot of gunfire in the world right now in various places. I guess that's a conversation too.

Heck, when plants *rot* they exchange a lot of compounds with the soil so I guess they even talk when they're dead. Excuse me, I'm going to go out and bitch-slap the compost pile. It's too chatty.

lol - professor of weed science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689529)

How do I get a job like that?

DNA is not "communication" (0)

globaljustin (574257) | about 1 month ago | (#47689533)

look, TFA is good work, so props...DNA is not "communication" however

am I quibbling about language? maybe

my degrees are: double BA Communications Theory & Comparative Anthropology, my MS is in Information and Communication Science and my ABD PHD is in Systems Science

so that might explain why I am taking issue with the use of the world "communication"...sure, in the sense that the universe is made of 'information' then yes, it's 'communication'

in the cybernetic sense, communication as control, then it works too, however this is the quibble: 'communication' has always theoretically had a 'oneness' to the 'sender' node...sender>message>receiver...this plant system is not that

one group can send one message, but two plants with a symbiotic relationship is best described scientifically using Biology nomenclature

Re:DNA is not "communication" (2)

joocemann (1273720) | about 1 month ago | (#47690501)

mRNA is not DNA. DNA is the instruction set. mRNA are the messenger (message) RNA transcript that is translated so as to communicate a desired piece of information/function from instructions to actions. If a book tells you how to make brownies, and you read it -- you would say that you received a communication from the author on how to make brownies.

weed science (0)

future assassin (639396) | about 1 month ago | (#47689601)

Is he sure its not the THC talking?

Plant language? (0)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 1 month ago | (#47689683)

The equisetum (horsetail) has been around for so long that I think it uses FORTRAN.

More grammar mistakes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689883)

"when plants eventually flowers"

This is basic stuff that AMERICANS don't seem to be able to get right...

Plant language? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47689947)

I am Groot.

(Sorry, couldn't resist!)

mRNA talks to people too (2)

transporter_ii (986545) | about 1 month ago | (#47690009)

Eating Plants May Change Our Cells - LiveScience []

Called microRNAs, these compounds are the movers and shakers of our cells, as scientists have found they turn up and down levels of human proteins. However, until now scientists thought these chemicals were only made and used inside our bodies, but new research shows that microRNAs from plants can enter the human body.

Chen-Yu Zhang at Nanjing University in Nanjing, China, found low levels of plant microRNAs from rice in human tissues. After testing the effects of these chemicals on mice, Zhang concluded microRNAs from plants could actually impact how the human body functions.

Re: Oh yeah, and they are pissed (1)

transporter_ii (986545) | about 1 month ago | (#47690025)

Fruits and Vegetables Are Trying to Kill You: []

Re: Oh yeah, and they are pissed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47691523)

Sort of related... []

Re: Oh yeah, and they are pissed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47730721)

Well, I'm not sure they are THAT pissed. :)

Re:mRNA talks to people too (1)

czert (3156611) | about three weeks ago | (#47735377)

microRNA is a different beast from mRNA, though. mRNA stands for messenger RNA, the RNA molecule that transports the genetic information transcripted from the DNA in the nucleus to the ribosomes outside of the nucleus, for translation into proteins. Micro RNA, on the other hand, are short strands of RNA that attach to a "fitting" spot on a messenger RNA and thus affect its function in various ways.

Parasite plant says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47690125)

Stick em up and run those nutrients.

This really is nothing special (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 1 month ago | (#47690465)

Say compared to Cleve baxter's work []

Proof of Intelligence on Earth! (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | about a month ago | (#47690899)

Proof of Intelligence on Earth!
Here we have proof that plants communicate. They have feelings too. Plants are sentient! Time for those namby-pamby vegans and vegetarians to stop killing plants. Please give peas a chance! Lettuce stop the senseless violence against the great kingdom of plants - eat bacon!

Plot twist (1)

opine (3682421) | about a month ago | (#47691075)

The scientist behind the study is M. Night Shyamalan

That flower ... (1)

PPH (736903) | about a month ago | (#47691487)

... just said, "Feed me, Seymour!"

Obviously... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47691673)

We are Groot!

While lanuage is communication... (1)

drwho (4190) | about a month ago | (#47691783)

communication is not language. Language requires the ability to be infinitely expanded.

Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47691929)


That's it.

Quit Anthropormphising Everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47693375)

Sorry libs, plant's aren't people.

Re:Quit Anthropormphising Everything (1)

gzuckier (1155781) | about a month ago | (#47701063)

Sorry libs, plant's aren't people.

You're the wrong person (?) to be making that argument.

Plant politics and Deals. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47694721)

Parasite: "Yumm! Yumm! This so good!"

Plant: "Get Off Me! You Parasite! I'm going to wall you off. I know how to get rid of parasites. Fight! "

Parasite: "Hey, Wait! No Need to get Personal. Besides, I can do things for you."

Plant: "Right. Like what could you do for me? "

Parasite: "How about protection? There are a lot of really bad parasites out there. I could protect you from them."

Plant: "Bad Parasites? How Bad?"

Parasite: "Just Bad. They are a terror! Heck, all I ask is 30 to 55% of your nourishment for protection. . . . more if I really need it and you have a lot. But I only take it if I decide I need it. And you get security. Isn't that a nice deal? "

> Plant: "Doesn't sound bad like that. But wait - when does this 'deal' to keep these parasites away end? Doesn't sound like there's any restrictions on you and I have to keep providing!"

> Parasite: "I'm here to help. You don't want to be without me. I heard it on the grapevine they've been watching you for some time. I'm the only thing holding them back. "

> Plant: "Oh my!! That's scary. Maybe I should just wait and see for a while. "

> Parasite: "That's a good boy. "

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47696499)

This is about as much a conversation as my car has with the gas pump.

Dare I ask ... (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | about a month ago | (#47696755)

... if this means strangleweed fills the plant world's niche that, in our world, is filled by the NSA?

Odd coincidence (1)

gzuckier (1155781) | about a month ago | (#47701055)

I'm studying a formerly unknown means whereby certain plants, when heated, are able to transfer their mRNA to humans, resulting in a certain vegetativeness among the recipients.
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