Paper: Plants Create Their Own Pain Medicine When Stressed
Stock photo, plants in shape of man
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New research from a California university shows that plants create salicylic acid, also known as aspirin, when faced with environmental stress.

Scientists at the University of California Riverside have published a paper that studied the effects of excessive heat and other factors on the model plant Arabidopsis. The paper found that environmental stress triggers the creation of a molecule called MEcPP, which in turn signals the plant to start creating aspirin when a certain level of MEcPP is reached.

“It’s like plants use a painkiller for aches and pains, just like we do,” Wilhelmina van de Ven, a UCR plant biologist who worked on the paper, said of thing findings.

Researchers added that the process could protect plants against a changing climate.

“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, senior paper author and UCR distinguished professor of molecular biochemistry remarked.

“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,” she explained.

The findings could potentially be used to modify plants for a better harvest, researchers claim.

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

The UCR research is not the first data to indicate that plants create their own aspirin.

In 2008, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research released a paper showing similar findings.

“Unlike humans, who are advised to take aspirin as a fever suppressant, plants have the ability to produce their own mix of aspirin-like chemicals, triggering the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defenses and reduce injury,” NCAR scientist Thomas Karl in charge of the study said at the time.

“Our measurements show that significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures, or other stresses,” he added.

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