How a tomato plant foils a dreaded vampire vine | Science News

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How a tomato plant foils a dreaded vampire vine

Dodder sucks the life out of many crops, but one has a gene for fighting back

By
10:00am, August 23, 2016
Cuscuta reflexa

VICIOUS VINE  One of the dodder vines, Cuscuta reflexa, twines over neighboring plants and sucks the life out of them — unless they have a wooden-stake gene.

Forget garlic. In real life, a tomato can defeat a vampire. And researchers have now figured out the first step to vegetable triumph.

The vampires are slim, tangling vines that look like splats of orange or yellow-green spaghetti after a toddler’s dinnertime tantrum. Botanically, the 200 or so Cuscuta species are morning glories gone bad. In the same family as the heavenly blue garden trumpets, the dodders, as they’re sometimes called, lose their roots about a week after sprouting and never grow real leaves. Why bother when you can drain food and water from the neighbors?

A dodder seedling, basically a bare stem, finds that first neighbor by writhing and groping (in slow plant time) toward attractive plant odors. “The Cuscuta can smell its victims,” says Markus Albert of the University of Tübingen in Germany.

Depending on the dodder species, victims include

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