DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2019-05-07 13:05:41
    • Article ID: 712496

    Neutrons Investigate Tomatoes for Insights Into Interplant Chatter

    • Credit: ORNL/ Genevieve Martin

      A prepared soil system featuring a cactus and a tomato plant ready for study with the IMAGING beamline at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor.

    Plants are chatty creatures. In the last decade, researchers have shown plants communicate using underground fungal networks to exchange chemical information. However, exactly how that process works at the microscopic level is not well understood.

    Answering this question could have a big impact on both plant ecology and agriculture, which is why professors Kathryn and Jonathan Morris from Xavier University are using neutron scattering at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to observe firsthand how these info-chemicals travel along tiny, pipe-like networks called fungal hyphae. Whether the messages move passively along the outside of those fungal networks or the fungi deliberately locate and absorb info-chemicals for transportation remains unclear.

    “Basically, info-chemicals are chemical compounds that plants release into the soil to warn each other about potential threats and can even limit the growth of other plants. We’re trying to figure out if these info-chemicals move the way water flows in soil, or if they move independently of that flow,” said Kathryn Morris.

    For this experiment, the researchers created a small apparatus in which a cactus and a tomato plant are rooted in the same soil matrix that features a fungal network like the ones connecting plants in the wild. By loading that soil with heavy water and info-chemicals, and adjusting the amount of light each plant receives, the researchers can control when each organism drinks to observe exactly how the info-chemicals and the water are moving between the plants.

    Neutron imaging is ideal for this type of research because neutrons are sensitive to hydrogen, which both the plants and info-chemicals contain in abundance. In contrast, the soil does not contain a lot of hydrogen. That means the info-chemicals and plant roots show up as dark, clear, and distinct “shadows” in the radiographic images the researchers generate with the IMAGING instrument at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR).

    “The info-chemical compound contains hydrogen, and the heavy water used in the experiment contains the deuterium isotope of hydrogen. The difference in isotope content is important because the neutrons scatter strongly from the hydrogen and not the deuterium,” said Jonathan Morris. “That makes the info-chemical stand out as a distinct shadow in the collected neutron radiological images, whereas the heavy water appears to be comparatively transparent. This allows us to easily distinguish the movement of the info-chemical from the heavy water and study its behavior.”

    Understanding exactly how info-chemicals move between plants along these fungal networks could have important agricultural applications. For example, if certain fungi transport info-chemicals between only certain plants, farmers could take advantage of those networks to tactically deploy pesticides that would affect particular plant systems, destroying unwanted weeds without damaging their crops.

    “This is really exciting stuff. What we learn here will significantly impact our understanding of ecology,” Jonathan Morris said.

    HFIR is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. UT-Battelle LLC manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/.—by Gage Taylor

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    A Trojan Horse for Fusion Disruptions

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    Energy Department to Invest $32 Million in Computer Design of Materials

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    Demarteau to head ORNL Physics Division

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    ORNL welcomes seven new research fellows to Innovation Crossroads

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    Department of Energy Announces $75 Million for High Energy Physics Research

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    Ames Laboratory names James Morris Chief Research Officer

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    Four scientists at PPPL awarded national and international honors

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    Brookhaven's Mircea Cotlet Named a Battelle "Inventor of the Year"

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    Berkeley Lab Project to Pinpoint Methane 'Super Emitters'

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    Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps about 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide, is commonly released from rice fields, dairies, landfills, and oil and gas facilities - all of which are plentiful in California. Now Berkeley Lab has been awarded $6 million by the state to find "super emitters" of methane in an effort to quantify and potentially mitigate methane emissions.


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    A Trojan Horse for Fusion Disruptions

    A Trojan Horse for Fusion Disruptions

    Thin-walled diamond shells carry payloads of boron dust; the dust mitigates destructive plasma disruptions in fusion confinement systems.

    Found: New Bismuth Compounds in Well-Known Systems of Two Elements

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    Scientists discover an unexpected source of new materials, with potential for energy applications.

    Flowing for Function

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    A flowing magnetically responsive liquid seamlessly regulates the shape and properties of solids, letting them perform an array of jobs.

    Superconducting Films for Particle Acceleration

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    Researchers demonstrated record accelerating cavity performance using a technique that could lead to significant cost savings.

    Parceling Particle Beams

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    Successful models of the fraught dynamics of two particle beams in close contact lead to smoother sailing in an area of particle acceleration.

    At DOE's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, science drives next-gen creations

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    American ingenuity is providing radical productivity improvements from advanced materials and robotic systems developed at the Department of Energy's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    Computer Simulation Shows Astrophysical Particle Acceleration

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    High-Fidelity Multiphysics Simulations to Improve Nuclear Reactor Safety and Economics

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    Simulations Shed Light on Self-Healing Cement

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