New research from the University of Adelaide reveals that plants send signals indicating their stress levels, much like humans or animals do.

Although plants do not have a nervous system, they are capable of transmitting GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter common in animals when confronted with extreme temperatures, soil acidity changes, or other stress-inducing environmental causes.

Plants get stressed out just like us. Image 1.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Until now, it was unknown whether GABA signals stress in plants as it does in other animals. Now, the discovery can open up many questions as to why GABA has become a universal neurotransmitter, despite its changeable protein structure.

GABA could also be one of the reasons why sedatives and other plant-derived medications work on humans. 

Co-author of the study Stephen Tyerman is hopeful that the discovery can aid in international food production when faced with decreasing resources and climate changes. He says, "By identifying how plants use GABA as a stress signal we have a new tool to help in the global effort to breed more stress resilient crops to fight food insecurity."



 Neurotransmission was previously thought to be purely electric. Now we know that because not all activity occurs across a nerve synapse, much neurotransmission is both chemical and electric.

 Ways to tell if a plant is stressed include texture, color, and wilting of the foliage. These symptoms can indicate nutrient deficiency, soil moisture, and weather damage, all causes for plant stress.

Cover image: Wikimedia Commons