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Plants may use newly discovered molecular language to communicate

A Virginia Tech scientist has discovered a potentially new form of plant communication, one that allows them to share an extraordinary amount of genetic information with one another.

The finding by Jim Westwood, a professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, throws open the door to a new arena of science that explores how plants communicate with each other on a molecular level. It also gives scientists new insight into ways to fight parasitic weeds that wreak havoc on food crops in some of the poorest parts of the world.

His findings were published on Aug. 15 in the journal Science.

“The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized,” said Westwood, who is an affiliated researcher with the Fralin Life Science Institute. “Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, ‘What exactly are they telling each other?’.”

Westwood examined the relationship between a parasitic plant, dodder, and two host plants, Arabidopsis and tomatoes. In order to suck the moisture and nutrients out of the host plants, dodder uses an appendage called a haustorium to penetrate the plant. Westwood has previously broken new ground when he found that during this parasitic interaction, there is a transport of RNA between the two species. RNA translates information passed down from DNA, which is an organism’s blueprint.

His new work expands this scope of this exchange and examines the mRNA, or messenger RNA, which sends messages within cells telling them which actions to take, such as which proteins to code. It was thought that mRNA was very fragile and short-lived, so transferring it between species was unimaginable.

But Westwood found that during this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of mRNA molecules were being exchanged between both plants, creating this open dialogue between the species that allows them to freely communicate.

Through this exchange, the parasitic plants may be dictating what the host plant should do, such as lowering its defenses so that the parasitic plant can more easily attack it. Westwood’s next project is aimed at finding out exactly what the mRNA are saying.

Using this newfound information, scientists can now examine if other organisms such a bacteria and fungi also exchange information in a similar fashion. His finding could also help solve issues of food scarcity.

“Parasitic plants such as witchweed and broomrape are serious problems for legumes and other crops that help feed some of the poorest regions in Africa and elsewhere,” said Julie Scholes, a professor at the University of Sheffield, U.K., who is familiar with Westwood’s work but was not part of this project. “In addition to shedding new light on host-parasite communication, Westwood’s findings have exciting implications for the design of novel control strategies based on disrupting the mRNA information that the parasite uses to reprogram the host.”

Westwood said that while his finding is fascinating, how this is applied will be equally as interesting.

“The beauty of this discovery is that this mRNA could be the Achilles hill for parasites,” Westwood said. “This is all really exciting because there are so many potential implications surrounding this new information.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Virginia Tech. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Newly merged SpartanNash posts Q3 gains

In its first time reporting as a merged company, SpartanNash on Wednesday said its sales and profits improved in the most recent quarter, excluding charges related to the merger.

Adjusted earnings from continuing operations were $ 11.1 million for the most recent third quarter, compared with $ 4.9 million in the year-ago period. Including one-time charges, the company posted a loss of about $ 14 million for the 15-week quarter, which ended Dec. 28.


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Consolidated net sales for the 15-week third quarter increased 69.1% to $ 1.3 billion, primarily due to $ 563.2 million in sales from Nash Finch generated as a result of the merger, comparable-store sales gains of 0.7% and the impact of new distribution customers, partially offset by $ 46.1 million in sales for an extra week in the year-ago quarter. Excluding the impact of the extra week last year and contributions from the merger, sales would have increased about 3.8%.

Distribution sales increased 63.5% to $ 565.8 million in the recent third quarter due to $ 224.6 million in sales from Nash Finch, as well as new business gains, partially offset by the extra week of sales last year. Excluding the impact of the extra week last year and contributions from Nash Finch, distribution sales would have increased 4.3%.

Retail sales were up 17.4% to $ 520.9 million, due to $ 90 million in sales generated as a result of the merger, as well as the previously disclosed acquisition of a grocery store and fuel center in the year-ago third quarter and the 0.7% increase in comps, excluding fuel, partially offset by $ 2.7 million in fewer sales due to the closure of certain stores and $ 27.3 million in sales for the extra week in last year’s third quarter. Excluding the impact of the extra week a year ago and contributions from the merger, retail sales rose 3.5%.

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Schnucks Alton rings in new year with newly remodeled store

Customers and teammates of Schnucks in Alton, IL, will celebrate the new year and a new store remodel with a ribbon cutting Jan. 2.

“We are excited for our Alton-area customers to see the store’s amazing transformation, including new décor and expanded services,” Scott Schnuck,chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. “Schnucks has been serving Alton for more than 40 years, and we believe investing in our stores and their communities is one of the best ways to celebrate our company’s 75th Anniversary in 2014.”

Store Manager Paul Goforth said, “Our customers and teammates are raving about the new look and new shopping experience. Some of the highlights include an expanded meat selection and new bundle pack meats that provide extra savings; a new cook-to-order seafood department means our cooks can now fry or bake seafood purchases at no extra charge. In bakery, new muffin and gourmet cupcake carts make it easier to pick up fresh baked treats.”

Goforth added, “On the health and nutrition side, we now offer a vast array of gluten-free options and our pharmacy customers now have the convenience of a drive-thru window. Through generously sharing their requests and suggestions, our customers have helped to shape our new offerings, and we believe, they will see their input reflected in the new design.”

Schnucks has served Alton since 1971. The current 58,000-square-foot store was purchased from Kroger in 1986 and replaced the original store. It was last remodeled in 1996.

Schnuck Markets Inc. is celebrating 75 years of serving customers in 2014.

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