Plants might just be equipped with the capability of storing information or making memories, suggests a new study carried out by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts.
Susan Lindquist, a biologist at the university, has discovered a protein in a plant that acts like a prion (misfolded, disfigured and infectious proteins).
These prions can cause neurological health conditions in humans and animals could be in turn beneficial to plants, enabling them to bloom by "remembering" seasons.
These misfolded proteins are previously known to cause varied neurological diseases in humans and animals, including the infamous mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases.
"Plants have lots of states that they self-perpetuate. They have memory in some ways." said Lindquist.
The discovered protein is called Luminidependens (LD), which is a key element involved in the flowering process. It enables the plant to respond to cues such as sunlight and environmental temperatures, and accordingly controls the flower's blooming time.
These LD exhibited some of the classic characteristics of prion proteins when it was tested experimentally in yeast. This possibly makes LD the first protein from the plant kingdom with prion attributes. However, Lindquist and her team are not yet completely sure about establishing the newly discovered protein as a prion, because although the protein behaves like one they are still uncertain about it.
"We don't know what it's actually doing in the plant, so we are trying to be cautious. That's why we call it prion-like." she said.
Additionally, the team, are also not entirely sure as yet whether all plants contain prion-like proteins. To figure that out, they will have to look for proteins and carry out further experiments to confirm if other plant species constitute prion-like proteins as well.
"Prions, we think, are responsible for some really broad, really interesting biology. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg so far," added Lindquist.
The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.