Snake-like parasitic plant sucks victim’s life-giving nutrients: study

Snake-like parasitic plant sucks victim’s life-giving nutrients: study

Like a vampire, a snake-like parasitic plant Cuscuta pentagona coils around its leafy victims, puncture their stems and suck their life-giving nutrients.

A new research published on Thursday in the journal Science also revealed that not only does the parasitic plant, which is commonly called strangleweed or dodder, suck water and nutrients from its leafy victims, but also swaps genetic messages with its victim.

The researchers studied how Cuscuta pentagona parasitizes two common plants - tomatoes and Arabidopsis. While vampires are said to use telepathy to communicate with their victims, the study revealed that Cuscuta pentagona uses a complicated communication web of DNA and RNA.

The study conducted by researchers at Blacksburg-based Virginia Tech, also revealed that messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules move between the parasitic plant and its victim.

Prof. James Westwood, of plant pathology, physiology & weed science at Virginia Tech, said they were surprised to discover that RNA could serve as signal with the environment.

Commenting on the findings, Westwood said, "We're finding there is a massive, bidirectional movement of RNA between the host and the parasite. We just never thought that RNA could be the signal with the environment."

Westwood added that the type of communication between plants they found in the study might be more common than scientist thought.

The study is expected to provide scientists with information that may help them in finding solution to deal with parasitic predators that kill common crop plants.

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