Dr. Elisa Korenblum and a team headed by Prof. Asaph Aharoni of the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department wanted to build on the understanding that plants ‘talk’ to the soil.
By releasing various substances from their roots, plants communicate with the soil, but the team set out to discover and proved that the reverse is also true — the soil talks back to the plants.
What does understanding this new language mean to you?
Being able to decipher the language of soil-plant communication could revolutionize the production of food and medicine, by maximizing crop yields and growing plants to optimal specifications. Soil nearest to a plant’s root is one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, which includes millions of microorganisms.
The team started by splitting the roots of tomato seedlings in two, and in a series of experiments, altered the microbial composition of the soil on one side and found the plant communicated the changes to the other. Using high-resolution mass spectrometry to analyze root secretions, they found that substances that were secreted differed in accordance with the composition and diversity of soil microbes.
A better understanding of the way soil affects these secretions might enable scientists to manipulate various factors on demand to boost the production of plant-derived substances used in pharmaceutical, cosmetics and other industries.
They have already had success at this in laboratory conditions, increasing the plant production of such cancer-fighting substances as paclitaxel (Taxol) and vinca alkaloids.
As the group continues to study this relationship between plant and soil, Dr. Korenblum is focused on the ultimate goal of better deciphering this chemical language.
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