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Nightshade plants bleed sugar as a call to ants for backup

nightshade leaf with goo and ant

Tests suggest that nightshade goo contains lots of sugar and some amino acids that may help attract protective ants like Lasius niger (shown). Researchers suspect that a common hormone called jasmonic acid induces its production. 

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Herbivores beware: Take a bite out of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), and you might have an ant problem on your hands. The plants produce a sugary goo that serves as an indirect defense, attracting ants that eat herbivores, Tobias Lortzing of Berlin’s Free University and colleagues write April 25 in Nature Plants.

Observations of wild nightshade plants in Germany suggest that plants that ooze goo attract more ants (mostly European fire ants, or Myrmica rubra) than undamaged plants. In greenhouse experiments, those ants fed on both the goo and roving slugs and flea beetle larvae, substantially reducing leaf damage. Leaf-munching adult flea beetles and, to a lesser degree, slugs prompted the goo production. The ants didn't attack the beetles but did protect the plant from slugs and beetle larvae.

Plenty of other plants produce defensive nectars via organs called nectaries, and nightshades' bleeding may be a unique, primitive version of that protective strategy, the scientists report. 

Planetary Science

Hubble telescope finds small moon orbiting dwarf planet Makemake

By Christopher Crockett 11:31am, April 27, 2016
Hubble Space Telescope images from April 2015 show that the dwarf planet Makemake has a tiny moon.
Science & Society,, Neuroscience

Findings on wobbly memories questioned

By Laura Sanders 3:00pm, April 25, 2016
In contrast to older studies, new results suggest that new memories don’t interfere with older, similar ones.
Plants,, Epigenetics,, Cells

Plants might remember with prions

By Susan Milius 3:00pm, April 25, 2016
A plant protein has passed lab tests for prionlike powers as molecular memory.
Astronomy

Hubble telescope snaps stunning pic for its 26th birthday

By Christopher Crockett 7:00am, April 22, 2016
For its 26th anniversary, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped a picture of star blowing bubbles in space.
Health,, Microbiology

This week in Zika: Assessing risk, mosquito range, a transmission first and more

By Meghan Rosen 3:52pm, April 15, 2016
Several new reports document Zika infection in U.S. pregnant women, a case of male sexual transmission, the range of Zika-carrying mosquitoes and more.
Genetics,, Fungi

Gene-edited mushroom doesn’t need regulation, USDA says

By Tina Hesman Saey 3:16pm, April 15, 2016
A CRISPR-edited mushroom isn’t like other GMOs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
Animals,, Numbers

Math models predict mysterious monarch navigation

By Helen Thompson 6:00am, April 15, 2016
Researchers have come up with a series of equations to predict how monarchs use their eyes and antennae to figure out how to get to Mexico.
Physics

Itty bitty engine puts a single atom to work

By Emily Conover 2:04pm, April 14, 2016
Scientists have created a miniature heat engine out of a single atom.
Genetics,, Animals,, Molecular Evolution

Malaria parasite doesn’t pass drug immunity to its offspring

By Tina Hesman Saey 2:00pm, April 14, 2016
Malaria parasites resistant to the antimalarial drug atovaquone die in mosquitoes, a new study finds.
Animals,, Ecology

Pied flycatchers cruise nonstop for days to cross the Sahara

By Helen Thompson 6:30am, April 14, 2016
Teeny, tiny passerine birds called pied flycatchers fly day and night during their annual migration south across the Sahara.
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