Washington, June 4 (ANI): Scientists at the University of Delaware (UD) have discovered that changing climate is making the tall, tasseled reed Phragmites australis, a ‘super weed’, more powerful that it has become one of the most invasive plants in the United States.
The UD research team found that Phragmites delivers a one-two chemical knock-out punch to snuff out its victims, and the poison becomes even more toxic in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
The study is believed to be the first to report the effects of UV-B radiation on plant allelopathy, the production of toxins by a plant to ward off encroachment by neighboring plants.
The research was conducted in Delaware wetlands and in the lab of Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, a major center for life sciences research at the University of Delaware.
“The toxin secreted by Phragmites is degraded by sunlight — ultraviolet rays — and causes severe deleterious effects on other native plants,” Bais said.
“Our research also addresses the growing questions of increased UV-B incidences because of global warming and its ultimate effect on plants. In this case, an invasive plant is accidentally utilizing the changed global conditions for its survival and invasion,” Bais noted.
Two years ago, Bais led a study which discovered that Phragmites actively secretes gallic acid to kill off plants and take over new turf.
Gallic acid, also known as 3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid, is used for tanning leather, making dyes and inks, and formulating astringents, among other applications.
In this research, the scientists found that the gallic acid released by Phragmites is degraded by ultraviolet light to produce another toxin, mesoxalic acid, effectively hitting susceptible plants and seedlings with a double-whammy.
According to Bais, the mesoxalic acid triggers a similar “cellular death cascade” in victim plants as gallic acid does, destroying the tubulin and actin, the structural protein in the roots, within minutes of exposure.
The scientific team detected the biological concentrations of mesoxalic acid in Delaware wetlands, in stands of both exotic and native Phragmites australis.
The study highlights the persistence of the photo-degraded phytotoxin, particularly potent in the exotic species of the plant, and its enhanced effects against the native species of Phragmites, which is becoming increasingly endangered in the United States. (ANI)