Plants 'armor Up' with Metals

OXFORD, England, Sept. 13 (UPI) — British scientists say an alpine wildflower that accumulates metals in its leaves is using the metals as a sort of “armor” against bacteriological infections.

Scientists from Oxford University say that when Alpine pennycress plants accumulate metals in their leaves, they become resistant to attack by disease-causing bacteria, a university release said Monday.

The small plant in the mustard family grows on metal-rich soils scattered around Britain and Europe, such as the sites of former mine workings.

It has been found to accumulate zinc, nickel and cadmium to very high concentrations in its leaves, researchers say.

“Our results demonstrate that these plants are exploiting their metal-rich environment to armor themselves against disease,” Gail Preston of the university’s Department of Plant Sciences said. “What we’ve found is a direct link between these high metal concentrations and resistance to bacterial infection.”

The researchers also say bacteria surviving on plants on the site of a former lead-zinc mine in Wales had a higher tolerance for zinc than bacteria on plants growing on normal soils. Both the plant and its attackers show evidence of adaptation to survival in metal-rich environments, researchers say.

“Heavy metals may be part of an evolutionary ‘arms race’ between plants and the microorganisms that try to colonize them,” said Dr. Preston.

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Categorized | Microorganisms, Other
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