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The ‘smoke detector’ that allowed plants to first survive on land

Research Digest

untitledplantA plant protein that detects hormones in smoke can also detect microscopic soil fungi which colonise plants and feed nutrients to their cells. This ancient symbiosis with soil fungi is thought to be how plants survived on land millions of years before they evolved roots.

Dr Uta Paszkowski, from Cambridge University’s Department of Plant Science, is senior author of the study published in the journal Science and comments: “Plants secrete all sorts of molecules, like a dialogue through the soil, and what we captured is the ‘hearing’ side in plants.” Work by Dr Paszkowski is to be presented at the Pollinator ‘The good, the bad and the (B)ugly.

The new research has revealed that a plant protein known to detect growth-promoting compounds in smoke from burning vegetation has a much older and broader role: recognising initial signals sent from the beneficial soil fungi that deliver nutrients directly into plant cells.

By identifying the molecular signals emitted through the soil by friendly fungi, the protein enables a plant to “roll out the red carpet” for cell colonisation by the fungi, and all the survival advantages this mutually-beneficial relationship brings – the fungi feeds minerals such as phosphate into plant cells in return for sugar extraction.

The Good, the Bad and the (B)ugly” is to be held at the Centrum, Norwich Research Park on 19th January at 16.00.

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