Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

A Plant That Can Smell 119

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the nose-knows-best dept.
BlueCup writes "The question of how a dodder finds a host plant has puzzled researchers. Many thought it simply grew in a random direction, with discovery of a plant to attack being a chance encounter. But the researchers led by Consuelo M. De Moraes found that if they placed tomato plants near a germinating dodder, the parasite headed for the tomato 80 percent of the time. And when they put scent chemicals from a tomato on rubber, 73 percent of the dodder seedlings headed that way. Turns out, it sniffs out it's prey."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A Plant That Can Smell

Comments Filter:
  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:22PM (#16240755) Homepage
    But the researchers led by Consuelo M. De Moraes found that if they placed tomato plants near a germinating dodder, the parasite headed for the tomato 80 percent of the time. And when they put scent chemicals from a tomato on rubber, 73 percent of the dodder seedlings headed that way. Turns out, it sniffs out it's prey.

    See, now I would have thought that it would have been the tomatoes that made the first strike...
  • its more likely the plants are using the force... i'm not kidding man!!! Have you seen the size of the midichlorians on tomatoes??? I'd want to get close to them too!
  • Another name (Score:5, Informative)

    by MarkRose (820682) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:25PM (#16240791) Homepage
    A dodder is also known as a Cuscuta [wikipedia.org].
  • Well, duh. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Assassin bug (835070)
    Somehow I think that plant pathologists have probably noticed this for decades. It a pretty useful lab plant for moving pathogens between plants in interesting ways. Dodder is grown in plant path greenhouses commonly and usually near host plants.
    • Science 101. (Score:1, Redundant)

      by TapeCutter (624760)
      Ummm, yeah, for decades they have noticed and made use of the host finding behaviour of the dodder.

      1. And assumed the dodders behaviour was explained by "random twisting".

      2. This experiment found that "random twisting" can not explain the dodders behaviour.

      3. Iff the experiment can be repeated, the assumption is broken. Science will look for a stronger explaination as to how the dodder finds a host.

      4. RTFA before "arse spraying" it with that boiling alkaline excretion of yours.

      5. ????

      6. Pr
  • by Yo Grark (465041) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:30PM (#16240831)
    I can't find anything on google about it, but there was a tale of an experiment where a man went into a greenhouse and hacked up all the plants.

    A bunch of scientific equipment was setup to measure plants behaviour/electrical impulses.

    They then had 10 people walk through the room and when the man who hacked the plants entered the room the plants sent off strong/furious signals.

    I always wondered if this was a true experiment or urban legend...but with this species of plants sensing different kinds of chemicals, it just might have been real.

    Yo Grark
    • by lexarius (560925) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:36PM (#16240893)
      The way I heard it was: Two plants of the same species were placed in a room with the sensors attached. A man walked in and brutally hacked one of the plants apart and then left. After that, the surviving plant gave off the 'fear' signal whenever people walked in the room. Or something like that.
      • by qbwiz (87077) *
        How can you tell if a plant's feeling fear? Does it start quivering (or is that just the wind of people coming in)?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Tablizer (95088)
        The way I heard it was: Two plants of the same species were placed in a room with the sensors...

        Well, I heard it like this: A plant, a Nun, and a Rabbi walked into a bar....
             
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AuMatar (183847)
        Mythbusters did this one recently. It was completely busted- the lie detector "signals" were caused by vibrations in the plant from human motion.
      • by nebbian (564148)
        Read The Secret life of Plants [amazon.com]. It will open your eyes.

        There are numerous experiments described where the scientists hook up polygraphs to plants, get one person to just think about smashing the plant, burning leaves, that sort of thing, and the plant would go psycho. Other people who loved plants would be put into the same room and the plant would exhibit totally different behaviours.

        One guy actually controlled his garage door by hooking up a philodendron to an amplifier, and he could open the door
    • by khallow (566160)
      They then had 10 people walk through the room and when the man who hacked the plants entered the room the plants sent off strong/furious signals.

      What sort of signals does a plant send? Doesn't seem much point if it can't do anything about it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sumdumass (711423)
        Plants send all kinds of signals. The problem is that this urban legend has to interpret those signals without much of any interaction from the plant. When I first heard of it, it was being used by people trying to counter vegetarian's arguments about how animals feels when they are butchered(sometime in the 70's).

        The story goes that scientist conected an EKG machine and watched for signs of brian patterns. When the plant apeared excited they interpreted it as emotion. I didn't think it was actualy true but
        • by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:58AM (#16241453) Homepage Journal
          The story goes that scientist conected an EKG machine and watched for signs of brian patterns. When the plant apeared excited they interpreted it as emotion. I didn't think it was actualy true but i found a few posts about it.

          Mythbusters actually took a shot at this one [discovery.com] (episode 61). They tried hooking up both a polygraph (as the original guy did) as well as an EKG machine. What they found is that there initially appeared to be a response, but once they isolated themselves from the plant they were testing, the apparent response went away. Kinda dumb, but somewhat interesting.

          If you're interested, you can get it here [torrentspy.com] or wait for it to be on Discovery again.
    • by Ucklak (755284)
      First you have the so called animal rights nutjobs that want everyone to stop eating meat, next we're going to have plant right whacks that want to ban us from eating plants.
      What the hell is left to eat? If it isn't organic, the granola crowd isn't going to bite, and if it's manufactured (genetically engineered), we'll have activists spouting the dangers of modified DNA.
      • by c_forq (924234)
        The answer is simple: Soylent Green.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Jeremi (14640)
        What the hell is left to eat?


        Eating is so passe. Cut out the middle man, learn to photosynthesize!

      • We will all survive on E-numbers and other chemical rubbish that gets put into food. Dunno why they don't just give that to the herbivores and let the omnivorous folks have the real grub...
    • mythbusters attacked that idea:
      video on youtube [youtube.com]
      wikipedia (under Primary Perception) [wikipedia.org]
    • by kfg (145172) *
      A bunch of scientific equipment was setup to measure plants behaviour/electrical impulses.

      Setting up a bunch of scientific equipment is not what makes an experiment scientific.

      KFG
    • I believe you are looking for Plant Parapsychology [google.com]-- where plants can allegedly "detect" human actions.

      In the late 1980s, I watched videos of similar experiments performed in the Soviet Union (During a Nova or other PBS program). I remember these experiments pretty vividly-- how could anyone push such fraud?

      I remember something more like a lab-like setting--- there was a single plant, or a handful of similar plants. A researcher would enter the room and hack up a single plant while other researchers measure
  • ObJoke (Score:5, Funny)

    by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@[ ]mail.com ['hot' in gap]> on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:31PM (#16240845) Journal
    My dodder has no nose.
    How does it smell?
    Terrible!
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafflesia [wikipedia.org]

    That is how I interpreted the title. :)
  • Smelling Plants (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pipingguy (566974) * on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:34PM (#16240881) Homepage
    Nothing new here, as apparently, this one [wikipedia.org] smells quite a lot.
    • Oh, it does. I went back to my alma mater (UConn [uconn.edu]) in 2003 to see/smell one bloom.

      I walked by that greenhouse every day for 4 years to go to the engineering building, but never once stopped to smell the roses. But I drove 45 minutes to smell a flower that reminded me of dirty diapers and week-old roadkill.

      I think that's pretty impressive for a plant... it didn't smell its way to survival, it stunk its way to worldwide growth and protection.
  • ...you don't smell the plants, the plants smell you.
  • If the genetic engineering wizards could find out how to transplant this characteristic to, say, aquatic plants, perhaps they could modify them to attack the destructive zebra mussels [gma.org] that are such a major problem in the Great Lakes, or to control problem plants such as hydrilla verticillata [wapms.org].

    It's an fun thought, even if I lack the background to evaluate its feasibility.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by AmberBlackCat (829689)
      I can just see that getting out of control. You'll find yourself struggling to stay awake one night. Every time you blink and open your eyes again, it seems like your potted fern is a little closer to you. You'll be fine. Just go back to sleep...
  • when I first saw it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:39PM (#16240901)
    I was hiking with my parents in the Shining Rock Wildnerness [recreation.gov], an area in western North Carolina. Part of the wilderness was burned out sometime in the 1920's and the burn formed a long lasting grassland along several peaks. We hiked it sometime in the early 90's and it was the first time I saw dodder. It was this strange mat of oranged colored leafless vines, much like this [pompestoncreek.org] growing on a particularly plant (very similar to what is in the photograph, I believe). The strange thing is that we had hiked this trail over many years and had never seen this before. So we wondered at first if it were some new invasive species from elsewhere. Turns out that this was native to the area, but for whatever reason it never had grown this prolifically before. Definitely one of the strangest plants I've ever run across.
    • Sounds like you were in Graveyard Fields....I used to camp there all the time when I was in high school. You're right though, I never saw that plant in any abundance in that area....
      • by khallow (566160)
        Yea. I think it was all along the Art Loeb trail from Black Balsam peak to well inside the Shining Rock Wilderness. But now that you mention it, most of that area is actually just to the south of Shining Rock Wilderness in Graveyard Fields. Been a while since I was last there.
    • by rizole (666389)
      I germinated some alfalfa this year - just because - and there must have been some(a) dodder seed(s) in with it. I thought it was just part of the alfalfa at first until it went after some basil growing on my window sill.
      Here's a pic [flickr.com] and here it is flowering [flickr.com]
      Good stuff.
  • FSM lives! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:51PM (#16241005) Homepage Journal
    The Flying Speghetti Monster [wikipedia.org] is seeking out holy tomato sauce! I believe I belieeeeeve!
           
  • I can smell something after I eat asparagus.

    Asparagus is a plant.

    Therefore plants smell!

  • Not really (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrKyle (818035) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:53PM (#16241021)
    Smell is not just chemoattraction. Plants also grow in the direction of sunlight, does that mean they can see? They grow away from gravity, does that mean they can feel?
  • rubber (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    And when they put scent chemicals from a tomato on rubber, 73 percent of the dodder seedlings headed that way.

    Maybe the dodder seedlings just needed a rubber before approaching the tomato plants?
  • Acacia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xybot (707278) on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:00AM (#16241085)
    The Acacia tree is sensitive to chemicals given off by other Acacia trees when they are damaged. It responds by increasing it's Tannin production in order to help ward off possible predators. I'm not sure of what the scientific definition of smell is, but I'd probably define it as "the ability to sense the existance of airborne chemicals".
    • by lawpoop (604919)
      My guess would be that the definition of smell is simply chemical detection ( as opposed to light detection, vibration detection, heat detection, etc. ). IIRC in plant biology class, groves of trees often communicate through their underground rood network , which is often more intimate than their top-side relationships.
    • by bar-agent (698856)
      I'm not sure of what the scientific definition of smell is, but I'd probably define it as "the ability to sense the existance of airborne chemicals".

      Ah, but here we have a plant that can not only sense the existence but also the direction of airborne chemicals. That makes a big difference.
  • by NerveGas (168686) on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:06AM (#16241127)

        Even *single-cell* flagellates have what can be considered a rusimentary sense of smell, and the capability of changing their locomotion in order to lead them to food. That sort of ability is present all the way up through the multicellular ladder, and "smell" (or response to airborne chemical signals) have been well-known for quite some time in plants.

        Frankly, I'm susprised that they didn't start out with an assumption that smell was involved.

    steve
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:07AM (#16241139) Journal
    Smell isn't anything more than detecting fairly dilute chemicals
    in the air. The fact that some species of plant have evolved to
    perform very specific kinds of chemical detection to ensure their
    survival doesn't seem surprising to me. Plants grow towards the
    light - why not towards other things that are essential for their
    survival.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Xerxes314 (585536)
      Well, I would imagine it has to be a bit more sophisticated than phototropism. I mean, it's easy to detect light, and the side of something that isn't in the light is in shadow. So there's a clear, strong directional signal.

      With smell, on the other hand, you have to detect very minute gradients in a trace amount of chemical that's being dispersed in the air. When the front half of your plant is facing a tomato, it's really only seeing a tiny amount more tomato-smell than the back half due to the dispersion
      • Actually, no, I don't think one would have to detect minute gradients.

        Basically, you need a threshold value and it needs to be stronger across
        50% of your field of sensivity. If you grow 1cm per day, you grow in the
        direction in which the signal is strongest for one day. The next, you grow
        in the direction again. And again, again, again, etc, etc. It only takes
        being approximately right every day, and since your prey is stationary,
        you get to it eventually.
    • by njh (24312)
      I agree, we've known about plant pheremones for years. 'The private life of plants' talked about this 'plant sense of smell' and communication system and had nifty CG to explain. Maybe someone more planty than me can explain what the new result is?
  • Sample size? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:07AM (#16241141)
    They don't mention what their sample size is, i.e., is it 100 plants?

    I can toss a coin 4 times, and let's say I get tails 3 times. Simultaneously, if I was tossing another coin nearby, and happen to get 3 tails out of 4 again on it too, can I conclude that the second coin supernaturally knew what the result on the other one was? BTW, the probability that the above happens is 1/16. Also, I can repeat this experiment many times to get this case.

    Obviously, those researchers are smart enough. My question is: how can they write such a big article without mentioning about the sample size?
    • by WiFiBro (784621)
      It's a Daily News article, what do you expect, chi squares?
    • Because the action of the plant is not simply grow towards tomato plant/do not grow towards tomato plant. The dodder has the options of growing slightly to the right of the tomato, slightly to the left of it, up, down, away from it, slightly away from it.... and I'm missing about a million more options. Given the odds of growing towards the same smell twice in a row, which are about 1 million squared (you get the idea), we can safely assume that there is a specific process involved here. No need to repeat
  • That is a strange and complex plant. There are really some fascinating plants out there though... though I have to admit that is in the top ten that I know of.

    Now if only we can genetically modify them to attack other Dodder plants.
    • by gardyloo (512791)

      Now if only we can genetically modify them to attack other Dodder plants.


            In related news, the 2010 Darwin Awards have been announced. . ..
  • It would seem that 7% of them had a stuffed nose at the time of the 2nd test...
  • Plenty of plants smell, especially those of the flowering variety. Amazing what you find when you go outside every once in a while.

    I kid, I kid...
  • Dodder (Score:2, Interesting)

    I got dodder in my garden from a basil plant I bought at a local nursery. That is one vicious weed. It's a parasitic rootless vine, hard to imagine if you've never seen it.
  • I have a dog with no nose!

    -How does it smell?

    Terrible!
  • by solanum (80810) on Friday September 29, 2006 @02:01AM (#16241735)
    Hmmm, nice that the article doesn't mention the actual author of the paper (published in Science). Also not surprisingly, the actual paper doesn't talk about 'smell'. Oh and for the person going on about sample size, of course the paper gives sample sizes.

    Here's the abstract:

    Volatile Chemical Cues Guide Host Location and Host Selection by Parasitic Plants
    Justin B. Runyon, Mark C. Mescher, Consuelo M. De Moraes*

    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.

    And here's the actual paper for those with access to Science articles:
        http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/313/5795/196 4.pdf [sciencemag.org]
  • Person 1: My Amorphophallus titanum [wikipedia.org] has no nose!
    Person 2: How does it smell?
    Person 3: Fucking awful.
  • Yawn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jeppe Salvesen (101622) on Friday September 29, 2006 @05:34AM (#16242599)
    Plants react to stimuli - that's well-known. They grow in the direction of light, the fruits ripen when there is ethylene in the air. Hell - you even have insect-trapping plants..

    So, if there are unique chemicals that the prey species give off, there is no surprise the doddler can detect them and react to them. Cool that scientists did the study and found this example, though :)
  • We got to greet these new tomato overlords ... bow//euh//crawl to them!
  • "Its" is the possessive.

    There is no charge for this editing service.

  • I guess this means I shouldn't fart on them anymore.
  • The true question is can we prevent a dodder from attacking a plant by placing smelly socks between them?
  • Argh grammar! (Score:2, Informative)

    by TheMoog (8407)
    Turns out, it sniffs out it's prey

    Ok flame-proof suit on, but "it's" is short for either "it is" or "it has". In this case the apostrophe isn't needed to denote ownership any more than you need an apostrophe in the words 'his' or 'hers'. More info at the Apostrophe Protection Society [fsnet.co.uk].
  • Artful Dodders (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday September 29, 2006 @09:24AM (#16243919) Homepage Journal
    if they placed tomato plants near a germinating dodder, the parasite headed for the tomato 80 percent of the time. And when they put scent chemicals from a tomato on rubber, 73 percent of the dodder seedlings headed that way.


    The shocking revelation is that 7% of the dodders weren't fooled by the simulated tomato smell. Those dodders are seeing the fake tomato patches as a trick. Those are the dodders to watch.
    • An interesting idea, but I'm not sure I would go that far without more testing. The 7% difference between the trials may be normal error imposed by chance. For example, it's entirely possible - and in fact, quite likely - that they could run the original experiment again and get a result a little different from 80% being found to be able to "smell" the tomatoes. It wouldn't necessarily mean that the plant got smarter or dumber between trials, just that chaos and chance provided a different result that time.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        We must investigate this further, if only to find out whether the dodders are really the brains behind The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! [imdb.com] And then hatch a scheme to stop their murderous rampages once and for all. Maybe a moratorium on ketchup will soothe their jihad...
  • they kept at least 50' away from the skunk cabbage.

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley

Working...