Professor of plant pathology, physiology and weed science, Jim Westwood from the Virginia Technology College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has revealed a new form of molecular plant communication. This is the first time that someone had ventured out to study communication between two different species. Until now, there had been internal communication in plants through RNA (Ribonucleic acid). RNA is the information passed down from DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) which is an organism’s blueprint.
In the research, Westwood examined the relationship between parasitic plant dodder and two host plants- Arabidopsis and tomatoes. The dodder penetrates the host plants using an appendage called ‘haustorium’ to suck moisture and nutrients out of the plant. In an earlier research, Westwood had found that during this parasitic contact, RNA is transported between two species.
In the current research, he closely looked into this exchange of information and examined mRNA (messenger RNA), that sends messages within cells informing them of the action to take. The information could be anything such as which proteins to code. Until now, mRNA was perceived to be fragile and short-lived, and so an inter-species transfer was unimaginable. But Westwood found that during this parasitic relationship, thousands and thousands of mRNA molecules were being exchanged between both plants. Through this communication the parasite might be dictating the host plant to weaken its defences so that it could attack the plant easily.
Westwood's next project is aimed at finding out what exactly the mRNA is communicating. This is a very useful finding as it can help modern science to get rid of parasites which pose a serious threat to standing crops.