Plants Display Altruism, Study Shows

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Altruistic plants

A new study from the University of Colorado has found the positive effect plants have on families. The findings of the new study suggest that plants, like humans and animals, have the ability to be altruistic. Sound nutty? Continue reading.

The researchers cultivated the corn and harvested more than 100 ears over a three-year period. The Huffington Post shares:

CU researchers studied corn, in which each fertilized seed contained two “siblings” — an embryo and a corresponding bit of tissue known as endosperm that feeds the embryo as the seed grows. They compared the growth and behavior of the embryos and endosperm in seeds sharing the same “mother” and “father” plants with those that had genetically different parents.

The results showed that embryos with the same mother and father as the endosperm in their seed weighed significantly more than those with the same mother but a different father, said Pamela Diggle, a CU professor. That means the endosperm can recognize its “half siblings” and is less likely to pass on as much food, thus acting less cooperatively.

“Plants, just like humans, do care about who is in their family,” said professor William Friedman, a Harvard University professor who assisted the research.

Previous research on the matter have proved that plants have the ability to withhold nutrients from select offsprings when their resources are scarce. When a plant gives up all of its nutrients to an offspring, it ends up dying, and in turn, displays altruism.

The Huffington Post writes:

[Friedman] removed, mapped and weighed every individual kernel from the harvests. Most of the kernels had an endosperm and embryo with matching colors, which indicates they shared the same mother and father plants. But some had different colors — perhaps a purple outer kernel with a yellow embryo.

Wu took on the time-intensive task of searching for those kernels that had different fathers so that the researchers could examine the cooperation between the embryo and endosperm.

The authors also noted that endosperm is critical to human survival because in wheat, corn and rice, it provides about 70 percent of the calories consumed worldwide.

The study was co-authord by Chi-Chih Wu, a CU doctoral student in the ecology and evolutionary biology department.