Expert: Plants May Remember Survival Techniques in Small RNA
May 17, 2012
Understanding how plants remember the tough times, such as drought, could help scientists
to create more drought- and heat-tolerant crops that can adapt to global climate change.
Do your African violets remember when you forget to water them? Does a 100-year-old
elm remember how it survived the Dust Bowl on the High Plains of Texas? Researchers
at Texas Tech University say yes, and they keep the “memories” of these past experiences
in the small RNA in their cells. Survivors then may pass this information on to their
offspring. Understanding how plants remember the tough times, such as drought, could
help scientists to create more drought- and heat-tolerant crops that can adapt to
global climate change.
Chris Rock, associate professor of plant molecular genetics, Texas Tech University,
(806) 742-3722 ext. 271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- While it’s true that plants don’t have brains or central nervous systems like animals,
they do have chemical and electrical signaling abilities. A Venus flytrap signals
the trap to close when they feel an insect inside.
- Plants and animals have small RNA contained in their cells. Originally discovered
in plant cells in the 1990s and believed to be junk, scientists now believe that RNA
in animals and humans plays a role in memory.
- When a plant is stressed, say by too much heat or too little water, the plant’s cells
must work to keep the plant alive and may modify the cell’s metabolism.
- If the plant is successful, these cellular adjustments may be “remembered” by the
cell’s small RNA, and can be recalled if the same experience should happen again.
These experiences may, in turn, be passed down to a plant’s progeny.
- “It’s been shown in mammals including humans that small RNAs are really important
in functioning of nervous system and particularly brain cells. It’s not thought that
small RNAs are somehow processing information.”
- “As global climate change becomes a greater issue in the ensuing years, understanding
plant memory could become more important. Humans depend on large agricultural industries
to feed us, clothe us and drive our economy. A warmer overall climate could spell
disaster not only for the industry, but for human survival as well.”