OCT 23, 2022 9:00 AM PDT

How Plants Respond to Smoke, and How it Could Affect Farming in the Future

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Wildfires have been blazing around the world, and in the past few years, their frequency and intensity have only increased. We often hear, for example, about how large and devastating forest fires are in California, often brought on by a range of changes to the area’s climate. In fact, researchers often point to climate change as a reason why forest fires are becoming more intense and more frequent.

Given their destructive potential, forest fires can do a great deal of damage to plants and ecosystems in general. While the flames themselves are the most visible culprit, there are also questions about a less visible culprit: how the vast amounts of smoke produced by a wildfire affect plants that do not succumb to the fire itself.

To better understand the dynamic between smoke saturation in soil and plant vitality, a team of researchers at the University of Missouri set out to develop a way to simulate plant reactions to smoke in the soil. What they found, however, was something they did not expect, with the help of liquid smoke. Their unexpected findings are published in a recent article published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

In their simulation, researchers used liquid smoke to replicate the experience of plant in the middle of wildfire. What they noticed surprised them: the plants natural defenses were actually boosted, giving it a greater power to resist things like plant-related diseases or pathogens.

At first glance, this seems counterintuitive, right?

To better understand what was causing this peculiar reaction, researchers turned to the plant’s vascular system which helps divert certain resources to different parts of the plant to respond to threats, much like the human immune system. They used radioisotope carbon-11 to study where exactly smoke affects the vascular system of plants. In their experiment, they used sunflowers. These sunflowers, when exposed to smoke, grew larger, thicker leaves.

Researchers hope their findings could inform future research studying agricultural crops like soybeans, which could help develop new ways of protecting crops from environmental threats and stresses.

Sources: Eurekalert!; International Journal of Molecular Sciences

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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