Nitzan Shabek

How Plants Sense Scent

New study shows how plants use scent for internal communication

Plants need to be able to communicate with themselves—by sending signals from their leaves to their roots to their flowers—so that they can coordinate growth and optimize resource use. They also need to communicate with other plants and organisms, which they achieve by releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), tiny molecules that are often associated with distinct smells. Scientists know a lot about how plants emit these odorous signals, however very little is known about how they receive and interpret them.

Now, a study coauthored by researchers at the University of California, Davis provides insights into how plants “smell.” By using a combination of genetics, biochemistry and structural biology, the researchers showed that petunia plants perceive molecular signals emitted by budding flowers via KAI2 receptors. Without these receptors, the plants were unable to perceive signals sent out by their flower buds, and as a result their flowers had stunted development and produced fewer seeds. The work was published March 21 in Science.

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