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Plants Really Do "Talk", And They Communicate To Help Each Other Grow

Update Date: May 06, 2013 08:08 PM EDT
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Previous studies found that plants communicate with each other by making "clicking" sounds, and now scientists have discovered why.

A new study confirms, once again, that plants are helpful creatures. Australian scientists found that they "talk" to each other to help their neighbors grow.

The latest findings published in the journal BMC Ecology, reveals that neighborly chat among plants improves seed germination.

The study revealed that even when other known means of communications like contact, chemical and light-mediated signals, are blocked, chili seeds grow better when grown with basil plants.  Researchers said the findings suggest that plants are talking via nanomechanical vibrations.

Researchers Monica Gagliano and Michael Renton from the University of Western Australia grew chili seeds (Capsicum annuum) in the presence or absence of other chili plants, or basil (Ocimum basilicum).  The study revealed that germination rates were very low when plants grew on their own.  However, when the plants were able to openly communicate with the seeds, more seedlings grew.

Afterwards, researchers separated the chili plant seeds from the basil plant seeds with black plastic to block light and chemical signals.  Researchers found that the plant seeds still germinated as though they could still communicate with the basil. However, researchers noted that only a partial response was seen for fully-grown chili plants blocked from known communication with the seeds.

"Our results show that plants are able to positively influence growth of seeds by some as yet unknown mechanism," Gagliano said in a news release.

"We believe that the answer may involve acoustic signals generated using nanomechanical oscillations from inside the cell which allow rapid communication between nearby plants," she said.

However, not all plants are created equal, and some can be less cooperative than other.

"Bad neighbors, such as fennel, prevent chili seed germination in the same way," Gagliano explained.

Previously, Gagliano and her team also found plants respond to sounds and communicate with each other by making "clicking" sounds.  At that time, researchers said the findings, published in the journal Trends in Plant Science, suggest that plants talk and listen to their neighbors to give each other information about the environment around them.

Researchers say their findings suggest that plants communicate this way because sounds waves are easily transmissible through soil, and plants listen for these sounds to pick up threats like drought from their neighbors further away.

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