Trifecta Technique Teaches Us About Plants’ Adaptability

In times of stress, how we respond can make or break our survival. Plants are no exception. To better understand and predict how plants respond to stressors in a changing climate, researchers combined three advanced techniques in one study.

Researchers from the University of Arizona, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) user facility, and the University of Freiburg worked collaboratively under the Facilities Integrating Collaborations for User Science (FICUS) program. The goal was to pinpoint how three different tropical plants protect themselves during drought-like conditions. A plant’s response to less water not only impacts the individual plant’s survival, but also how carbon moves across a larger scale. This study is helpful as climate researchers look to forecast and understand how plants will react to climate conditions in the future.

The team used chemical fingerprinting and imaging techniques at EMSL. The researchers took a three-pronged approach to identify the type and changing quantity of molecules in each plant’s roots, create detailed images, and explore root cell signaling and communication.

Combining these techniques revealed that each plant studied uses a different defense method during drought stress. One species thickened its roots by adding more lignin, the woody material used in plants for structure. A different species upped its biochemical defense. The third showed no big change. However, the soil around it indicated that the plant was sending more carbon to its surrounding environment.


Ashleigh Papp ([email protected]) is a science writer and multimedia producer in the Office of Science.

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