The expression “family comes first” is one that has and continues to be relayed by virtually every culture of the world. In fact, as a student of Arabic, I was exposed to a peculiar Arab version of this motto that both denotes the importance of family while simultaneously establishing a hierarchal structure of the family unit.
I will first provide the Arabic version for any native Arab greenseedling followers, immediately followed by a translation to English:
انا واخي ضد ابن خالتي ولكن انا وابن خالتي ضد الغريب
Translation: Me and my brother against my cousin, but me and my cousin against the stranger.
Interestingly enough, in their latest study, Harsh Bais and Meredith Bierdrzycki of the University of Delaware discovered that plants too follow the simple lesson of this ancient Arabian proverb.
Research has shown for quite some time now that when plant siblings are grown next to one another, they play nice and choose to share the resources provided rather than compete for vital minerals and nutrients. You may be wondering at this point, how exactly does that work? Well since plants use their roots for the purposes of the uptake of water and other essential nutrients, when planted next to one another, sibling plants do not competitively grow excessive numbers of roots as stranger plants have been observed to do.
Until now, little was known about exactly what sorts of recognition processes are involved in this complex system of sibling identification.
To further research this topic, Bais and Bierdrzycki designed a series of experiments that exposed young seedlings to root secretions from their siblings, from stranger plants, and lastly, from their own secretions. The two then measured the growth of these roots over time and arrived at a conclusion that confirmed earlier findings.
Reflecting on his study, Bais noted, “The exposure of plants to the root exudates of strangers induced greater lateral root formation than exposure of plants to sibling exudates. Strangers planted next to each other are often shorter because so much of their energy is directed at root growth. Because siblings aren’t competing against each other, their roots are often much shallower.”
This study has opened up numerous opportunities for further research into the effects of this sibling identification on gardening, farming, and a wide array of additional applications. Some day in the future, I hope that we (both plants and humans) will all be able to get along. Until then, however, it seems that family truly does always come first.
Discussion Question: Given our understanding of the role of competition in biology, what sorts of implications do you think this “playing nice” has on the future evolution of plants?
News Article Link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091014144734.htm
Scientific Article Link: http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/27/article/10118/
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