Plants Get Stressed and Emit Defensive Signals Like Humans

October 11, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Photo credit: Wikimedia (CC BY 2.5)

Study finds G-proteins that rapidly diversified early in land plant evolution can mediate stress responses.

When plants get stressed, they sometimes adopt human solutions, according to new research published in the journal Science Signaling.

Scientists studying a family of proteins called G-proteins — which are present in almost every living organism — found that some of these pieces of cellular machinery have evolved in plants to mediate a stress response.

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These same proteins in humans provide a wealth of cues about the environment, allowing us to respond to various stressors. “In humans, G-proteins help people to sense light, flavour, odour, and are involved in behaviour and mood regulation via things such as adrenalin, histamine, dopamine and serotonin,” explains study co-author Jimmy Botella of the University of Queensland, Australia, in a press release.

“Plants have adapted the machinery that humans use to see in order to defend themselves against pathogens and water stress,” he adds.

The “classic” G-proteins have long been known to play critical roles in the development of both plants and humans. But a newer class of these proteins, which the researchers found had undergone “rapid diversification early in the land plant lineage,” has become capable of launching a response to the environmental stressors plants face.

Though the responses in both plants and humans involve G-proteins, the plant proteins have become highly specialized in their responses, reflecting “the main difference between most animals and plants — that while animals can avoid stress situations by moving, most plants are stuck in one place and need to come up with ingenious solutions to survive,” says Botella.

The researchers argue that the rapid diversification of these newer G-proteins may have enabled early plants to adapt to the extreme environmental stress encountered in the early stages of their move out of the water and onto land.

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