We all love the smell of freshly cut grass. However did you know that the delightful aroma given off by newly mowed grass is actually the plant’s cry of distress? And that being so, does that make us all sadistic? We may never know. However, what we do know is that new studies have found that the smell given off by plants not only serves as a signal of harm but also as a summons for helpful insects. The plants in distress release airborne chemical compounds that call nearby creatures to the rescue.
Dr. Michael Kolomiets, a plant pathologist in the ARGlife research division of Texas A&M, has been studying these lipid-derived molecular signals that affect not only plants, but also humans and animals, and was recently granted $490,00 to continue his research. We know a lot about how humans deal with these molecular signals, we get headaches and pains and then take aspirin to repress the symptoms; but we know little to nothing about how these same signals affect plants. Kolomiets believes that a better understanding of this particular branch of plant biology could aid in many things such as insect resistance and drought tolerance.
Plants respond to all types of danger in the same way, weather the threat be a predator or a lawn mower. They produce defense proteins that will make the plant either less appetizing to the predator or more appetizing to helpful insects and animals. Kolomiets studied a mutant corn plant that could not produce one of the most important molecular signals called green leaf volatile. Green leaf volatile is the combination of chemicals that get released when plants suffer tissue damage Kolomiets found that not only did the signal make the plant less appealing to the insects that were eating it, but also attracted parasitic wasps that would attack the insect. These findings may help farmers make plants that are more capable of protecting themselves from insects.
I think its really interesting that something as seemingly insignificant as the smell of grass could be the product of such a complicated biological process. I also think that it is important to understand how we are affecting other organisms and how they are responding to human actions. We take a lot of things nature does for granted and I think that this article gives us insight into the complicated biological reactions that go into all forms of life.