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Tomato fruit warns the rest of the plant when attacked

New research published by Frontiers has found something very interesting. A certain variety of tomato has fruits that can use chemical and hormonal signaling to notify the rest of the plant when they’re attacked by caterpillars. 

“We usually forget that a plant’s fruits are living and semiautonomous parts of their mother-plants, far more complex than we currently think,” said Dr. Gabriela Niemeyer Reissig of the Federal University of Pelotas.

“Since fruits are part of the plant, made of the same tissues of the leaves and stems, why couldn’t they communicate with the plant, informing it about what they are experiencing, just like regular leaves do?”

“What we found is that fruits can share important information such as caterpillar attacks–which is a serious issue for a plant–with the rest of the plant, and that can probably prepare other parts of the plant for the same attack.”

To study signaling of tomato plants, the researchers measured the electrical responses of the plant before, during and after herbivory by insects for a 24 hour period. The signals before and after the caterpillars munched on the tomatoes were different, showing that some sort of electrical signaling was taking place. 

The results showed an overall picture of signaling, not a narrow view of specific signals. However, the techniques used in the study can be replicated for a closer look in the future. Dr. Reissig is hopeful this study will lead to more research and important results,   

“If studies like ours continue to advance and the techniques for measuring electrical signals in open environments continue to improve, it will be possible to detect infestation of agricultural pests quite early, allowing for less aggressive control measures and more accurate insect management,” said Dr. Reissig.

“Understanding how the plant interacts with its fruits, and the fruits among themselves, may bring insights about how to ‘manipulate’ this communication for enhancing fruit quality, resistance to pests and shelf life after harvest.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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