Communication in plant root

Stefano Mancuso

LINV- DIPSA – University of Florence

Title: Communication in plant root


Somewhere between 400–1,000 million years ago, plants initiated a sessile lifestyle, taking advantage of the ubiquity of light as a source of energy as well as devising ways of compensating for body losses suffered because of browsing predators. Among the primary advances made by plants and sessile animals to survive predation was the evolution of different modular structures. Roots, leaves, branches, shoots, buds, flowers, are reiterated many times during the development of a single plant body, to ensure that in case of environmental damage or predation some module of the body can survive and regenerate the individual. In general, as a consequence of this primordial decision for a sessile and modular lifestyle, the specialization of tissues and cells in plants is minimised, if compared with animals, to limit predatory damages.

Another consequence of the “sessile decision” was the need of a well-organized sensing system, which allows plants to explore efficiently the environment and to react rapidly to potential dangerous circumstances. Below ground, roots can sense a multitude of abiotic and biotic signals, providing all the time the appropriate responses. Actually, roots behave almost like active animals, performing efficient exploratory movements, with the root apices that drive the root growth in search for air, nutrients and water to feed the whole plant body.

The perspective we are looking at plants in the last years is changing dramatically, tending away from seeing them as passive entities subject to environmental forces and organisms that are designed solely for accumulation of photosynthetic products. The new vision, by contrast, is that plants are dynamic and highly sensitive organisms, with complex behaviours actively and competitively foraging for limited resources both above and belowground. They are also organisms, which accurately compute their circumstances, use sophisticated cost-benefit analysis and take defined actions to mitigate and control diverse environmental insults. In the last years the recognition that plants usually perform these high level functions has elicited a great number of research that eventually led to the discovering of neuroid capacities in the root apices and to the understanding that the cooperative behaviour of plant roots witnesses the emergence of new features that can be properly described just in the framework of complexity.

Plants can be considered as information-processing organisms with complex communication throughout the individual body. In addition, the architecture of their body and their physiological attitudes make plants an unlimited source of inspiration.

Contribution to the Workshop “Smart Solution from the Plant Kingdom”