Plant Lights Up When Insects Attack It

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A study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s researchers shows that plants react when they’re attacked by sending internal signs as a warning to activate their defense mechanism.

When an insect bites into a plant’s leaf, the plant has many physiological responses and uses calcium as signaling the threat. The calcium quickly spreads to other leaves as an indirect defense mechanism.

To prove the process, researchers added a green and fluorescent protein. Over a dozen videos show how glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter in animals, can activate the wave of calcium when an insect attacks a plant. There is a video (link below) which shows what happens when a caterpillar bites into a leaf. In just a few seconds, the plant starts glowing, revealing how calcium runs from the damaged area and starts spreading to other leaves.

This process shows that plants quickly respond in a threatening situation with the help of calcium. Researchers filmed the processes, showing that plants have a communication system that would have remained hidden until now, explained Simon Gilroy, Professor of Botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

“We know there’s this systemic signaling system, and if you wound in one place the rest of the plant triggers its defense responses. But we didn’t know what was behind this system. We do know that if you wound a leaf, you get an electrical charge, and you get a propagation that moves across the plant. What triggered that electric charge, and how it moved throughout the plant, were unknown.”

The signal moved very fast – a millimeter per second, delivering the wounds signals in plant cells in a couple of minutes. After a few more minutes, the plants can prepare to defend themselves from insects’ attacks. This research is significant because scientists will be able to find out how plants protect themselves against insects and how to stop the attacks.

You can see the short video uploaded by the university on their YouTube channel by following this link.