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Imagine That! -- "Roots in Warfare"

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! -- "Roots in Warfare"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Above ground, plants might seem pretty quiet, but down below, they've got a communication system that's buzzing with life!

Imagine That!

The behavior of plant roots has been a mystery for a loooong time, because, being underground, they can be tough to examine. But researchers at Colorado State University have recently broken ground on a new way to watch these roots in action. They created a transparent sterile solution for one particular plant to grow in, and later transplanted it into soil in their greenhouse. What they found is that plant roots have a way of speaking up for themselves...

Vivanco: "We are very much interested in trying to understand what kind of language plants are using to communicate with microbes in the soil, and we believe that this language is based on chemicals."

That's Jorge Vivanco, associate professor and researcher on the project at CSU. He says roots secrete anti-microbial compounds into the soil around them to ward off bacteria, which explains why, though the soil is rich with pathogens, so few actually affect plants.

Understanding more about the language roots speak could help in developing more resistant crops in the future. Turns out, going back to these roots could be a tasty adventure! I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at

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