Plants Produce Their Own Aspirin To Protect Themselves From Environmental Stress

When it comes to dealing with stress, it looks like plants are the superior species.

A new study reveals that plants are capable of self-medicating when they are under stress. If you’re envious of that ability, you are understandably not alone.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Emma Simpson

Most people turn to modern medicines when they experience some type of pain. Aspirin is one of the more common and accessible drugs on the market, as it can be bought over the counter without a prescription.

And aspirin is even more accessible to plants, because they can produce their own supply of this drug.

Researchers published an article recently on the topic, and they observed how plants are able to produce salicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin, to protect themselves from stress brought by environmental hazards like pests, heat, and even thirst.

PHOTO: Pixabay/Fritz_the_Cat

By understanding the process of how plants are able to regulate their production of aspirin, the researchers say that it may help the survival of other types of plants from the effects of climate change.

“We’d like to be able to use the gained knowledge to improve crop resistance,” said Jin-Zheng Wang, co-author of the new study. “That will be crucial for the food supply in our increasingly hot, bright world.”

The production of salicylic acid in plants is seen as a defense mechanism. The research team mentions that environmental stresses result in the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in all living organisms. ROS have an important function in plant cells but high levels of ROS in plants are lethal, they said.

“At non-lethal levels, ROS are like an emergency call to action, enabling the production of protective hormones such as salicylic acid. ROS are a double-edged sword,” Wang said.

During their research, the scientists discovered that heat, prolonged exposure to sunshine, or drought cause plant cells to generate an initial alarm molecule as MEcPP. The accumulation of this molecule in plants is what triggers the production of salicylic acid, thus beginning the defense mechanism of the plant.

“It’s like plants use a painkiller for aches and pains, just like we do,” said Wilhelmina van de Ven, co-author of the article.

“Because salicylic acid helps plants withstand stresses becoming more prevalent with climate change, being able to increase plants’ ability to produce it represents a step forward in challenging the impacts of climate change on everyday life,” Katayoon Dehesh, co-author of the study, said.

PHOTO: Flickr/Val Def

“Those impacts go beyond our food. Plants clean our air by sequestering carbon dioxide, offer us shade, and provide habitat for numerous animals. The benefits of boosting their survival are exponential,” Dehesh said.

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