14 November 1998

And You Thought Bill & Ben Were Just Puppets

While hunting through the genes which make up the DNA of Arabidopsis, a frequently used laboratory plant, NYU researcher Dr Gloria Coruzzi has discovered the amino acid glutamate.

In the human brain, the amino acid glutamate acts as a chemical messenger and carries out a host of important functions, playing a role in everything from acquiring and storing memories to possibly contributing to certain mental health ailments. Past research has detected signs of glutamate overload in the post-mortem brains of people with schizophrenia, and faulty glutamate signaling has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

Glutamate and other neurotransmitters are squirted out by nerve cells and exert their effects through protein molecules called receptors that are nestled within the outer layers of adjacent nerve cells, where they serve as sentries that permit the passage of only certain molecules.

"This opens up a new connection between plants and animals," said Coruzzi.

Now that we know plants can communicate we are waiting for an enterprising researcher to hook up a tomato plant to a voice box to hear what they have to contribute to the modified plant gene debate.

Now you know a plant can understand you, what do you want to say to it? Post your suggestions to the forum.