Bugs Help Plants Tolerate Drought, Frost
By Sean Powers
A new study shows bugs, even those that feed on crops, might not always be a bad thing for farmers. It is possible some could ultimately do more good than harm to the plants they feed on, by helping them pull through hardships like this year's drought.
Biologist Richard Musser at Western Illinois University found the saliva of horn worms can turn on frost and drought resistant genes in plants.
"If we could figure out what is really involved in protecting plants from those drought respon...you know, turn on those drought responses earlier that plant might be able to deal with less water," Musser said.
Musser's findings are being published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology this month. His latest study is a follow up to an earlier discovery that some plants, including tomatoes, will actually call for help when attacked by herbivores such as caterpillars.
The SOS attracts insect predators that eat the caterpillars. Musser calles the phenomenon "screaming tomato plants."