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Ferns Communicate with One Another to Decide Their Sexes


Image credit: mobile_gnome, via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When we talk of reproduction, it’s natural to think that it is easier for plants to do it in comparison of animals. After all, the reproduction of plants is not involved in carefully-planned displays or fierce fights to win over females, because in most cases, flowering plants are both male and female. But if we take the Japanese climbing fern into account, it is a different story.

Known as Lygodium japonicum in technical term, individual plants of such species are either male or female. Here is the question to consider—in which way do they maintain a balanced ratio between the sexes so as to ensure reproduction in its communities?

The researchers at NagoyaUniversity and the University of Tokyo were quite interested in such phenomenon and they were trying to identify the mechanisms behind this unique process. According to their research newly published in Science, they had found that when these plants wanted to communicate with each other, they resorted to pheromones. In fact these signals could dictate the sex of maturing individuals so as to make sure that the ideal number of each sex would be maintained in a community.

A well-known pheromone called gibberellin was found to be vital factor in this process. This name might sound familiar to some people, because it was very important in the Green Revolution after the World War II. Gibberellin served as a growth hormone in plants at that time, so the researchers had found the approaches to manage sensitivity to it, thus creating hardier varieties which would be helpful in increasing crop yields.

From the scientific discovery, young gametophytes, a sexual phase during which gametes were produced, were all female. Such structures were characteristic of a special synthetic pathway to generate a precursor to gibberellin, which was secreted into the surrounding environment. In a later developmental stage, the neighbors would then absorb the molecule, at this moment; it could be modified into active gibberellin that would allow male organ to be formed. This should cause female plants to be surrounded by males, thus enhancing promotion of genetic variation within the colony.

As Makoto Matsuoka, the leader of research team said, significant ecological implications would come up with these interesting findings. Since Lygodium japonicum was an invasive species in some regions, to develop a way to target gibberellin would be much helpful in preventing their spread.

Source: ScienceScienceNature and Phys.org