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How Do Plants Handle Stress?

4 minutes

Life is full of stress. And we all have different ways of dealing with it. And we all have different tolerances for it. But what about other organisms like plants and animals? How did they handle stress? Today, in collaboration with Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany and their #alwayscurious initiative, I want to talk about stress tolerance in plants. Merck KGaA just released their 2018 Curiosity Report. And my favorite finding is that of all the industries pulled, scientists ranked as the most curious. Now, this came as no surprise to me as I find us all to be a very curious bunch. But I was interested in what parameters they measured. One of them was stress tolerance defined "as the willingness to embrace new and uncertain situations at work." Considering how uncertain science can be and how if we're doing it right, we're always right at the edge of something new-- it made sense to me that stress tolerance is a quality that scientists demonstrate. Now, humans have come up with lots of different ways to try and relax and destress. And I have tried many of them. But I wondered what would happen if I looked to the rest of the tree of life for their distressing techniques. Might other organisms have new suggestions that I could try. A 2002 article on the different ways that plants and animals manage stress suggested three potential coping mechanisms-- behavior, resistance, and recovery. Organisms can use their behavior to try and evade or reduce stress. They can try and instead become more resistant or tolerant to that stressor. They can take the stress and then recover from the aftermath. I decided to focus on plants for my new destressing techniques. Plants can undergo lots of different types of stresses from things like high temperature, low water, and excess light-- these are a abiotic stresses-- to things like pathogens or other animals taking a bite out of them. And these are biotic stresses. In researching this, I came across a number of plant stress producing strategies. These included things like growing away from unfavorable and stressful conditions, which I could translate to a human response of removing yourself from a stressful situation, as well as things like positioning leaves in ways that could reduce damage from temperature and water loss. I'll call that staying hydrated and wearing cozy layers in human terms. But the stress response that I found to be the most fascinating came from the humble lima bean. When lima bean plants are infested with spider mites, which feast on the plants leaves they respond by producing volatile chemicals. These chemicals in turn attract predatory mites that eat the original spider mites. It's like the volatile chemicals are tiny little mite signals that encourage their rescuers to come quickly. One of the cool things is that this effect protects not only the original plant that was being eaten but also surrounding neighboring plants. A paper from 2000 showed that lima bean leaves placed near leaves that were under attack by the spider mite and producing these volatile chemicals turned on five defense genes of their own. But leaves placed next to artificially wounded leaves did not. Suggesting that the defense mechanism was specific to the spider might attack. While I wish that I had the power to summon a flock of predatory mites to eat my problems every time I was stressed, I think that instead I'm going to translate this one into the human equivalent of inviting friends over for a dinner party and leaning on them for their support while they're here. Thank you again to Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany for sponsoring this video. Stress tolerance is just one of the metrics measured in their new 2018 Curiosity Report. The curiosity index also focuses on openness to other people's ideas, deprivation sensitivity, and joyous exploration-- the joy derived from learning and seeking out new knowledge. I bet that that last one is something that you and I both share as we strive to learn more about science here on YouTube. You can click on the link in the description below to see the 2018 Curiosity Report. They also ranked different generations based on their curiosity level so you'll will have to click the link to find out if my generation-- the millennials-- were ranked as the most or least curious. And as always, remember, to go forth and do science.

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Host Alex Dainis discusses stress tolerance in plants and highlights the ways plants cope in stressful situations. Some of the techniques include growing away from unfavorable conditions and producing chemicals to ward against an infestation.

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