ADENOSINE triphosphate (ATP), considered the high-energy molecule that drives all life processes in animals and humans, is the main energy source inside a cell.
Outside the cell, membrane receptors that attract ATP drive muscle control, neurotransmission, inflammation and development. Researchers at the University of Missouri have found the same receptor in plants and believe it is a vital component in the way plants respond to dangers, including pests, environmental changes and plant wounds.
This, they believe, could lead to herbicides, fertilizers and insect repellants that naturally work with plants to make them stronger.
"Plants don't have ears to hear, fingers to feel or eyes to see," said Gary Stacey, an investigator in the University of Missouri Bond Life Sciences Center and professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources. "Plants use these chemical signals to determine if they are being preyed upon or if an environmental change is occurring that could be detrimental to the plant. We have evidence that when ATP is outside of the cell, it is probably a central signal that controls the plant's ability to respond to a whole variety of stresses."
Stacey and fellow researchers screened 50,000 plants over two years to identify the ATP receptors. By isolating a key gene in the remaining plants, scientists found the particular receptor that aids in plant development and helps repair a plant during major events.
"We believe that when a plant is wounded, ATP is released into the wound and triggers the gene expressions necessary for repair," Stacey said. "We think ATP is central to this kind of wound response and probably plays a role in development and a whole host of other plant responses to environmental changes and pests."