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Plants use calcium just like humans



April 10, 2014


New research from the University of Wisconsin has found that plants use very fast calcium ‘waves’ to send information around the plant about insect attack and other stressors.

A new type of probe technology detects the movement of calcium throughout the plant, with the sensor changing from green to red light when it detects calcium, a process known as fluorescence resonance energy transfer, or FRET. Researchers led by Professor Simon Gilroy in the Department of Botany were “astonished” at the speed with which information could travel around the plant from leaves to roots and other shoots.

After applying a small amount of salt to the roots of Arabidopsis thaliana, it took only 10 minutes before stress response genes were activated throughout the plant. The calcium waves are transmitted only through a particular protein channel, indicating that specific plant cells have very specific functions. The stress to the plant also increased the plant’s manufacture of these ‘two pore channel 1’ protein cells, allowing even faster calcium translocation.

Humans also use calcium as a neurotransmitter. Botanists have known for some time that a plant’s defence mechanisms are quickly switched on when it’s exposed to injury or insect attack but not that plants also use calcium to send that information around the plant. Further research will look at determining how a plant ‘knows’ what defence mechanisms to switch on in response to different stimuli.

Read more at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

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