Nancy Wiersma: Some plants emit chemicals to find off attackersPublished 10:04am Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I’m constantly amazed by nature. While reading an article – and, no, I wasn’t watching a science fiction movie, this is the truth – I read that scientists are learning that some plants have natural built-up mechanisms (resistances) to a variety of hazards, including attacks by both pests, insect and disease organisms.
These plants that can cope best will endure, prosper and reproduce.
Those that don’t have these natural pest “resistances” can’t deal with insects and diseases and they don’t carry on or survive.
There are those that have true resistances, meaning they have built up physical features that can make pest attack difficult, such as thick outer coatings (tougher pods, longer, tougher husks) or a coat of long, stiff hairs, which prevents and discourages insects from feasting.
And yet, other plants have built up physiological deterrents, such as producing toxic compounds and even antibiotics to aid them in repelling pests.
Others have apparent resistances, like withstanding attack by growing more rapidly, maturing early or just by being a very strong, healthy, vigorous plant.
Some merely endure and put up with the enemy by continuing to grow though they might be troubled by pests, be they insect or disease. And the last option is, some plants just tolerate more damage than others.
Research scientists claim some plants that they’ve studied can actually emit chemical distress signals. These signals are very specific about the pest that is attacking them and they can actually summon the required “good insects” to their aid.
The plant releases or emits chemical blends of 10 to 12 different compounds, called volatiles.
A plant can communicate their attackers’ identity, quickly and accurately, via these compounds.
These plant traits have scientists and researchers very interested, so that ultimately, they can find ways to reduce or do away with totally our insecticide, pesticide use.
I can say this, what we have thus far learned and have yet to be taught by nature, we as humans haven’t even begun to imagine.
The control of nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance, borne of the neanderthal age of biology and philsopht, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.”
— Rachel Carson
Nancy Wiersma writes a weekly column for the Daily News.