Despite them not having a central nervous system, plants release a chemical signature and electrical signals just like animals do in life-and-death situations, a recent research suggests.
The study, which was recently published in Nature Communications could help researchers find why some plant-based drugs have so remarkable effects on humans.
The research team found that animals and plants alike release the neurotransmitter GABA whenever they are facing stressful circumstances. Other studies had shown that the neurotransmitter, which was first detected in animals, was also commonly found in plants. But this is the first study to underline that plants use it as a signal of stress, as well.
Scientists explained that a plant “feels” stressed whenever it has to face prolonged drought, extreme temperatures, too much salt or high acidic levels in soil, and parasites.
Matthew Gilliham, lead author of the study and senior researcher at the Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, explained that plants bind the neurotransmitter in a very animal-like fashion. As a result, a plant under stress emits electrical signals that can mark the plant’s growth in a place with a lot of stressful factors.
Stephen Tyerman, another researcher involved in the project, said that the new findings may help agribusinesses make plants more resilient to stress, as agricultural crops are under a lot of stress coming from pests and extreme temperatures.
Furthermore, stress-resilient crops can contribute to rising food security across the globe, experts said, since the discovery of how GABA neurotransmitter really works is one major step towards that direction.
Yet, the neurotransmitter is slightly different from one kingdom to another because plants and animals have entirely different proteins, but the basic function remains the same – signaling stress.
The new findings may explain why some herbal supplements help us when we have a health problem. For instance, chamomile which calms down our nervous system is believed to block GABA receptors thus inhibiting neurotransmitters. That’s how we may scientifically explain why the plant provides us with a gentle feeling of calmness and relief whenever we either drink a tea cup or take a chamomile -based supplement.
As a follow-up, the team plans to conduct another study on another plant signal molecule – the salicylic acid. This may also help science have an explanation why industrial salicylic acid also known as aspirin is so effective in reducing inflammation across the body and prevent heart disease and even cancer, as many studies had shown.
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