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Scientists make incredible find when observing way plants react to pests: 'Could potentially be used to develop new crop treatments to arm the plants'

"20% to 40% of global crop production is lost to pests annually."

"20% to 40% of global crop production is lost to pests annually."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists have discovered that plants can defend themselves against pesky pests like mites that eat their nutrients.

According to Phys.org, while these pests are invisible to the naked eye, they can cause extreme damage to crop yields of fruit, vegetables, and salads. They can also damage house plants. This discovery could help prevent crop damage from pest infestations. 

Researchers from the Center for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics in Spain and Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University found that plants use a drought-survival mechanism to defend themselves against pests. 

The researchers used an advanced fluorescent biosensor to detect hormonal changes in the plant. They found that within five hours of spider mite infestation, they started producing abscisic acid, usually employed during a drought. 

When the plants produced this acid, their microscopic leaf pores began closing. They do this to conserve water in a drought, but it also prevents the pests from sucking the plants dry. The mites are no longer able to get their mouths into the pores. 

While studying the plant thale cress' reaction to spider mite infestation, the scientists found that the plants almost immediately started to protect themselves, significantly reducing plant damage. 

Dr. Alexander Jones, part of the research group at the Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University, said the next step is to find out what signals the mites are sending to the plants that make them produce the acid and start closing their microscopic leaf pores. 

Dr. Jones said, "Identifying the initial triggers could potentially be used to develop new crop treatments to arm the plants ahead of predicted pest infestations."

These pests can cause extensive damage. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "20% to 40% of global crop production is lost to pests annually," costing the global economy about $220 billion. 

Farmers often use pesticides to combat these pests. A recent Consumer Reports study found that 20% of the food examined had harmful levels of pesticides. Prolonged exposure to pesticides can cause serious health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, as the Guardian reported.

Pesticides can also harm wildlife, including birds, and contaminate soil and waterways. 

Even supposedly safe insecticides can be detrimental to the environment. For example, a brand was found to be harmful to bees

If researchers discover a more natural way of using the plant's capabilities, that will be safer for humans and wildlife.

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