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"Pest Test" -- The Discovery Files


The Discovery Files
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The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 405-875-0058 on any telephone.

University of Missouri experiments mark the first time scientists have shown that a plant responds to an ecologically relevant sound in its environment.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Pesting (Sound effect: tap mic) 1-2-3--pesting.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: actual caterpillar munching sounds from mu) This is the actual sound of a caterpillar having lunch. Yeah, leaf again. Hungry little guy. A University of Missouri study has found that these chewing vibrations can cause the plant to take action.

Previous research investigated how plants respond to acoustic energy, including music. The Missouri study used audio and chemical analysis to look at the response to more "ecologically relevant" vibrations.

Using specialized lasers, the team measured and recorded leaf vibrations during a caterpillar buffet. Next, two sets of plants were exposed to either no sound or the recorded sounds of caterpillar munching (Sound effect: caterpillar munching sounds) played back to the plants using tiny actuators that vibrated the leaves precisely as feeding caterpillars would.

When real caterpillars later fed on both sets of plants, the plants that had been exposed to the "bad vibes" produced more of a defensive chemical that caterpillars find (Sound effect: cartoon caterpillar: bleaaah!) unappealing.

Somehow the plants were able to discern the munching vibrations from other environmental sounds. Further study is needed, but the researchers believe using vibrations to enhance plant defenses could be useful to agriculture.

Let's hope the caterpillars never learn about take-out.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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