In Plants, "Calling All Cells" Means Busy Electrical Circuits
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
June 14, 1999
Don Comis, (301) 504-1625, firstname.lastname@example.org
BELTSVILLE, Md., June 14--Drought, an insect walking on a plant leaf, a
friendly pat from a gardener: All can trigger the equivalent of a cellular
"911 call" from a plant to literally all of its cells, warning them to
prepare for defense, according to a scientist at USDA's Agricultural
The existence of such warning systems has been known for a long time, but no
one knows how they work. Now, ARS plant molecular biologist Frank J. Turano
reports the "cell phone network" may run along neural "lines" similar to
those found in animals.
"Plant cells respond to changes in their environment and warn distant parts
of the plant of potential problems," said Turano.
His preliminary studies at the ARS Climate Stress Laboratory in Beltsville,
Md., are starting to unravel the molecular workings behind this cellular
communication system. The research may lead to new tactics for strengthening
crop plants' capacities to adapt, survive and thrive in different
Turano has identified and cloned a dozen genes that enable plants to make
receptors similar to those found in animal nerves. Previously, only two
plant genes of this type have been reported in the scientific literature.
He believes that these receptors may be responsible for an electrical
signaling system in plants. "Knowing where the receptor genes are the most
active could help pin down the basic mechanism for cell-to-cell signaling
that may be involved in plant growth and environmental responses," he said.
Turano has also cloned plant genes that control glutamate and GABA--gamma-
aminobutyric acid--levels in plants. Glutamate and GABA are two amino acids
known to control neural signal transmission in animals. Turano speculates
that plants beset by insects or other stresses may use glutamate or GABA to
trigger a chain reaction by opening the receptor's "floodgate." A flood of
ions passing through this gate may initiate an electrical signal. The signal
may trigger a long distance cell-to-cell message that can warn and prepare
the plant to defend itself.
The signaling system will be explored under a cooperative research and
development agreement between ARS and Auxein Corp. of Lansing, Mich. Turano
will pursue the genetic and molecular studies, while Auxein scientists will
concentrate on the physiological aspects of the system. ARS and Auxein are
applying for patent protection on the genes and technology.
Scientific contact: Frank J. Turano, ARS Climate Stress Laboratory,
Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-5527, fax (301) 504-6626,
This item is one of the news releases and story leads that ARS Information
distributes on weekdays to fax and e-mail subscribers. You can also get the
latest ARS news on the World Wide Web at
* Feedback and questions to ARS News Service via e-mail: email@example.com.
* ARS Information Staff, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Room 1-2251, Beltsville MD
20705-5128, (301) 504- 1617, fax 504-1648.
To Unsubscribe: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command
"unsubscribe sanet-mg". If you receive the digest format, use the command
To Subscribe to Digest: Email email@example.com with the command
All messages to sanet-mg are archived at: