New research shows forest trees remember their roots

July 11, 2011

When it comes to how they respond to the environment, trees may not be that different from humans.

Recent studies showed that even genetically identical human twins can have a different chance of getting a disease. This is because each twin has distinct personal experiences through their lifetime.

It turns out that the same is likely true for as well, according to new research from the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).

"The findings were really quite stunning," says Malcolm Campbell, a biologist and lead author of the study. "People have been talking about a so-called "nursery effect" for a long time."

The study looked at the theory that and other plants, even when they were genetically identical, grew differently and responded to stress differently depending on the nursery that the plants were obtained from. Campbell says the research findings not only provide a strong affirmation of this effect, but also reveal insight on a molecular level. "Our results show that there is a form of molecular 'memory' in trees where a tree's previous influences how it responds to the environment."

In the new study, Campbell's graduate student Sherosha Raj used genetically identical that had been grown in two different regions of Canada. These stem cuttings were then used to regrow the trees under identical climate-controlled conditions in Toronto. Raj subjected half of the trees to while the remaining trees were well watered.

Since the trees were regrown under identical conditions, Campbell and his research group predicted all the would respond to drought in the same manner, regardless of where they had come from. Remarkably, genetically identical specimens of two poplar varieties responded differently to the drought treatment depending on their place of origin.

Campbell's research group also showed that this difference occurred at the most fundamental level – the one of gene activity. Even though the specimens were all genetically identical, trees that had been obtained from Alberta used a different set of genes to respond to drought than the ones that had been obtained from Saskatchewan.

The findings of this study are relevant to foresters and gardeners in highlighting the importance of the nursery source for trees and other plants, which can determine how the plant will grow and resist stress in a forest or the garden. Additionally, the "memory" of previous experience discovered in this study could also help determine plant survival in response to changes in climate, or other environmental stresses like diseases or pests.

The study appears in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Explore further: U.N.: Effects of bio-tech trees not known

Related Stories

U.N.: Effects of bio-tech trees not known

July 14, 2005

The United Nations says research into the effects of genetically modified trees is inconclusive despite potentially vast applications in the forestry industry.

Fungi may help protect plants from disease

November 22, 2005

Scientists say they've determined microscopic fungi living inside trees might help protect the trees from disease and predators. The fungi, called endophytes, are found throughout various types of plants, with different endophyte ...

Time of day matters to thirsty trees, researcher discovers

November 23, 2009

The time of day matters to forest trees dealing with drought, according to a new paper produced by a research team led by Professor Malcolm Campbell, University of Toronto Scarborough's vice-principal for research and colleagues ...

Bacteria living on old-growth trees

February 23, 2011

A new study by Dr. Zoe Lindo, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biology at McGill University, and Jonathan Whiteley, a doctoral student in the same department, shows that large, ancient trees may be very important ...

Bacteria on old-growth trees may help forests grow

June 7, 2011

A new study by Dr. Zoe Lindo, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biology at McGill University, and Jonathan Whiteley, a doctoral student in the same department, shows that large, ancient trees may be very important ...

Recommended for you

A better way to read the genome

October 9, 2015

UConn researchers have sequenced the RNA of the most complicated gene known in nature, using a hand-held sequencer no bigger than a cell phone.

Threat posed by 'pollen thief' bees uncovered

October 9, 2015

A new University of Stirling study has uncovered the secrets of 'pollen thief' bees - which take pollen from flowers but fail to act as effective pollinators - and the threat they pose to certain plant species.

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Jul 11, 2011
Oh this won't go well with vegetarians. Murderers!
not rated yet Jul 12, 2011
speculation...when all the facts are not known!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.