More than 22 million papers on the sense of touch in plants

Gravity support is the largest scientific support in the Netherlands. Sprakel and Weijers are leading a consortium involving seven universities and will conduct research on plants' sense of touch over the next 10 years.

Biologists have known for about a hundred years that plants “feel” touch. Just think of carnivorous plants that close their leaves as soon as they sense prey on them. But exactly how this works at the cellular level, without a brain or nerves, remains unclear. In the new project “Green Tissue Engineering,” researchers from Utrecht, Nijmegen, Eindhoven, Groningen, Amsterdam (VU) and Leiden will work together on this.

Cell language

The project requires a multidisciplinary approach. “When cells talk to each other, they use the language of the cell: biochemistry,” says Fires. But touch, wind, or invasive fungi are mechanical triggers. “The plant must then translate these mechanical signals into the language of the cell.” The researchers want to use basic knowledge on this topic, among other things, to make plants more resistant to diseases. “To infect a plant, pathogens must penetrate the hard skin of the plant,” Sprakel explains. This means the mechanical connection between the two. “If we know how a plant activates its defenses, we might be able to make it more sensitive to such signals,” says Fires.

The project also offers 57 young scientists a place in a sub-project. “PhD students are often trained with a strong focus on one specialty,” says Sprakel. But he also sees added value in younger researchers with a broader vision. “This project gives us the opportunity to train people in biology, physics and chemistry.”

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Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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