How Plants Turn into Zombies

Another stunning article from ScienceDaily, How Plants Turn into Zombies is all about how certain insects can convert plants from flowering, blooming herbs and shrubs, to undead poison-spreaders. Usually, insects and plants share a positive arrangement: insects eat pollen and nectar from the plants, and further both their survival and the plant’s survival through pollination. However, certain species of insects transmit bacteria, or phytoplasmas, into the plant, which cause it to only form “vestigial leaf structures” instead of reproducing. One of the main things the insects transmit is a protein called SAP54. This protein imitates certain proteins in the plant, causing it to bond with SAP54 instead of the plant’s own proteins, thereby preventing it from reproducing and turning it into a zombie. Because of this, the next plant you see might very well be the “living dead”, its only purpose to pass on this disease. I thought this article was well written, with the terminology not so far over my head that I couldn’t understand it through re-reading. The first time I read it, I didn’t understand why it really mattered. Plants become non-flowering, non-reproducing, poison-spreading “zombies”. I just couldn’t see how it would affect us. Then, I realized, wait. If these plants are contagious, then what happens if (admittedly, a little far-fetched) all plants were to become like this? Then what? Or, more conceivably, what happens when these plants infect a farmer’s crops? He loses money, and there is less food. And if these plants affect enough farms, then humans would lose all vegetables and spices. And, if it got bad enough, then the plants would become inedible to the animals we rely on for food which means they would die. And if we lose both plants and animals, well, what are we gonna eat? But again, very far-fetched. But that does not rule out its potential possibility. And, according to this article, while they have more information, “Although, we understand the infection process better now, we are not yet able to prevent it,” Theißen says.” So, considering we have no way of stopping the “zombie” plants (anyone thinking of Plants vs Zombies yet?), the theory that this could potentially majorly impact us in the future is becoming more conceivable. Especially since Sap54 (the protein that is mainly responsible for causing the plant to stop reproducing) is so incredibly similar to the plant’s own proteins yet scientists have no idea how they could be alike. They do have some theories, but most prove to be implausible; such as, “It is conceivable that both proteins trace back to a common origin,” Rümpler says. “However we suspect that this is not the case.” Personally, I think the key to stopping the “living dead” plants is finding out why Sap54 is almost indistinguishable from the MADS-domain-proteins of the actual plant. Once this has been found, then scientists can try to prevent plants from bonding with Sap54 and bond with their own proteins or try and find a cure for the currently-zombified plants. However, while this article did explain how insects transmit the disease, they never explained how plants transmit the disease to other plants. But, hopefully, these sick, contagious, undead plants will be stopped – for good.

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