Brother and Sister Seeds Play Nice but Compete With Non-Siblings

While horticulturists and farmers may have known for decades that seed saving is a great idea, scientists have added new research to confirm their experience. Plants grown from seed of the same parent plant, grow more cooperatively with each other.The story came out this week from The University of Delaware where scientists made a discovery about plants being able to read the chemicals in each others' roots.

Here's the October 18 UDaily article in full.

In 2007, Susan Dudley a McMaster University evolutionary plant ecologist said Sea Rocket plants could recognize their siblings. Those siblings did not send out roots into each others' territory to take water and nutrients. The National Science Foundation funded the research.

When positioned next to non-sibling plant seeds, the they send out roots to compete with neighbors.

Noting that "Plants have no visible sensory markers, and they can't run away from where they are planted" Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware, worked to uncover why some compete and others do not. Bais and doctoral student Meredith Bierdrzycki worked together on the problem at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. (Photo from U Del)

Biedrzycki rotated more than 3,000 plants every day for seven consecutive days and documented the root patterns.

She said, "The research was very painstaking because Arabidopsis roots are nearly translucent when they are young and were also tangled when I removed them from plates, so measuring the roots took a great amount of patience."

So, no whining this winter about how many tomato seedling we are taking care of in the shed.

Their findings include:
Strangers planted next to each other are often shorter since energy is directed at root growth.
Noncompeting siblings have shallower roots.
Sibling plants allow their leaves to touch and intertwine compared to strangers that grow rigidly upright and avoid touching.

Bais said, "Often we'll put plants in the ground next to each other and when they don't do well, we blame the local garden center where we bought them or we attribute their failure to a pathogen. But maybe there's more to it than that."


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