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Crop Biotech Update

Plants Release Animal-like Signals When Stressed

August 5, 2015

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have shown for the first time that plants use animal-like signals when they are under stress. The researchers from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology reported in a paper in Nature Communications how plants respond to their environment with a similar combination of chemical and electrical responses to animals, but through machinery that is specific to plants.

According to senior author Dr. Matthew Gilliham, it has been known for a long time that plants produce the animal neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) when they are under stress, such as when they encounter drought, salinity, viruses, acidic soils, or extreme temperatures. But it was not known whether GABA was a signal in plants. The research team discovered that plants bind GABA in a similar way to animals, resulting in electrical signals that ultimately regulate plant growth when the plant is exposed to environmental stress. "By identifying how plants use GABA as a stress signal we have a new tool to help in the global effort to breed more stress resilient crops to fight food insecurity," said co-lead author Prof. Steve Tyerman.

For more details about this research, read the news release at the University of Adelaide website.