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Research: Tomato plants communicate by electric signals

24/07/2020 - Sophie Colvine
The soil beneath our feet is alive with electrical signals being sent from one plant to another, according to new research.

Dr. Yuri Shtessel, University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) distinguished professor emeritus in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dr. Alexander Volkov, a professor of biochemistry at Oakwood University, coauthored a paper that used physical experiments and mathematical modeling to study transmission of electrical signals between tomato plants.
Plants generate electric signals that propagate through their parts. When the plants are living in common soil, experiments conducted by Dr. Volkov found that the ground impedance is not very large and they can communicate by passing electrical signals to each other through the Mycorrhizal network in the soil. 
The tomato research, which focused on experimental study and mathematical modeling of electrical signal propagation between plants of the same species, opens new doors to questions about whether plants communicate across species through fungi. “I think that it is definitely possible that signals can propagate through the root network and spread in the common ground or soil from a tomato plant to, let’s say, an oak,” Dr. Shtessel says. “The soil plays the role of a conductor.”
Likewise, the nature of any messages being sent is unknown and the possibility of cognition was beyond the scope of the experiment. Dr. Shtessel calls those extremely interesting questions. “No study of the cognitive processing of the electric signals passed and received by the plants was accomplished,” he says. “Another issue is to study the plants’ communications via electric waves through the air. This is a different story that has not been deeply studied yet.”
Reference: Alexander G. Volkov & Yuri B. Shtessel (2020) Underground electrotonic signal transmission between plants, Communicative & Integrative Biology, 13:1, 54-58  
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