Researchers have found that plants stressed out from conditions such as drought may produce an aspirin-like chemical.
Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado say that the chemicals are produced as a gas to boost the plant’s biochemical defenses. These chemicals could affect pollution levels by mixing with industrial gases. However, the scientists also suggest that farmers could possibly have an early warning of crop failure and pests if they monitor this closely.
The leader of the study, Thomas Karl, says, “Unlike humans, who are advised to take aspirin as a fever suppressant, plants have the ability to produce their own mix of aspirin-like chemicals, triggering the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defenses and reduce injury. Our measurements show that significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures, or other stresses.”
Scientists have known for a long time that plants in a laboratory may produce methyl salicylate, which is a chemical form of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. But they never detected this chemical in an ecosystem.
Researchers said that they found the chemical by accident when they were monitoring plant emissions of volatile organic compounds in a California walnut grove.
They also state that by producing this chemical, they may be warning other plants in the area. “These findings show tangible proof that plant-to-plant communication occurs on the ecosystem level,” says NCAR scientist Alex Guenther, a co-author of the study. “It appears that plants have the ability to communicate through the atmosphere.”