What would you call a plant that appears alive, is in fact dead, but exhibits enough living behavior to attract an insect which will carry the parasite that is controlling the plant to another unsuspecting plant? Biology researchers at the John Innes Centre in the UK are calling it a ‘zombie plant.’
The scientists have not only observed and documented the behavior, but have discovered the method by which the parasitic bacteria (called phytoplasma) actually turn their plant host into the living dead. When these nefarious bacteria take over, they transform a plant’s flowers into leafy shoots, turning petals green and preventing the flowers from producing offspring. Apparently, that’s because the parasite has a protein called SAP54, which interacts with the plant so that flowers self-destruct from the inside.
Remarkably, plants with SAP54-induced leaf-like flowers are more attractive for colonization by ‘leaf-hopping’ insects, which transfer the bacteria to other plants, thus beginning its life-cycle all over again. After infection, the plant exists solely to attract insects that will pick up the bacteria it is infected with, and carry it to to another plant.
Put simply, AFTER infection, the plant’s only PURPOSE is to infect other plants of its own species.
The researcher’s entire peer-reviewed paper was published on April 9, 2014, and is available online at: PLOS Biology