Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dodder Attacks Tomato by Sense of Smell

Plants that smell like rotting meat, pinecones that must erupt in flames to disperse seeds, or vines that drain the life force of other plants... I think you know my inner geek burns the brightest at the prospect of hearing tales of weird and unusual plants. I was haunting the NPR archives and came across this really fantastic story about the biology of the dodder plant. A horrendously invasive weed of which no good can come and yet you have to admire its tenacity and "deviousness" in seeking out its prey.

Listen to the story from NPR:

Watch the dodder attack a tomato seedling:

Researchers from Penn State discovered Dodder's unique properties:
(Abstract) "The importance of plant volatiles in mediating interactions between plant species is much debated. Here, we demonstrate that the parasitic plant Cuscuta pentagona (dodder) uses volatile cues for host location. Cuscuta pentagona seedlings exhibit directed growth toward nearby tomato plants (Lycopersicon esculentum) and toward extracted tomato-plant volatiles presented in the absence of other cues. Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) and wheat plants (Triticum aestivum) also elicit directed growth. Moreover, seedlings can distinguish tomato and wheat volatiles and preferentially grow toward the former. Several individual compounds from tomato and wheat elicit directed growth by C. pentagona, whereas one compound from wheat is repellent. These findings provide compelling evidence that volatiles mediate important ecological interactions among plant species."

Read the research article from Science that this was based on: