‘Sneezing’ plants can transmit contagious diseases to healthy neighbors

Similar to how contagious illness can be transmitted from human to human through sneezing, researchers found out that sick plants can also “sneeze” and transfer diseases to healthy plants.

Researchers conducted an experiment on wheat plants that were infected with fungus and it was shown that the dew droplets that carry the fungal spores are the ones responsible for the transmission of the pathogens as they fly away from the leaves of the infected plant and transfer to healthy plants.

These pathogens can cause leaf rust, a fungal disease that affects wheat and can cause significant threat to yield.

According to Jonathan Boreyko of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, this “sneezing” occurrence is called the “surface tension catapult” where water droplets jump a few millimeters after two drops combine and surface tension turns into kinetic energy, “catapulting” them to neighboring plants. 

In the catapult effect, drops can leap high enough to be removed from the leaf where it was and be carried by the breeze to land on other plants. The effect is also said to occur only on plants that tend to repel, or not absorb, water like wheat.

In order to combat this, few solutions can be inferred such as spraying plants with a coating that can make them less water-repellent, according to Boreyko.

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