Life in the fast lane—how plants avoid traffic jams | 9/5/2017 | Staff
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Traffic jams are the curse of the commute, the scourge of the school run and the bane of Bank Holidays. But gridlocked motorists and students of traffic flow may soon be relieved and enlightened thanks to new research into plants.

It has emerged that plants have it sorted when it comes to going with the flow and avoiding frustrating congestion. These fascinating results come from a joint study by the John Innes Centre, Norwich, and the University of Tokyo, Japan.

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"These findings came to us totally out-of-the-blue, surprising us tremendously," said Dr Veronica Grieneisen from the John Innes Centre. "Even though we have worked with plants for many years, we were not expecting them to be constantly dealing with such dynamic behaviour" she added.

Jamology, the study of traffic jams, is devoted to discovering why congestion occurs on roads. Researchers in this field use mathematical and real life models to explain how traffic jams happen, sometimes for apparently no reason. One famous Japanese experiment using 22 cars on a circular track confirmed predictions that given certain densities, traffic flows were intrinsically unstable and would inevitably lead to jams.

Experiment - Unsettling - Phenomenon - Disturbance - Vehicles

This experiment showed the unsettling phenomenon where a disturbance of jammed vehicles initiates and moves backwards relative to the cars themselves. Jamologists call this a traffic wave. The parallels with plants emerged as two teams led by Veronica Grieneisen and Dr Stan Maree at the John Innes Centre and colleagues from the University of Tokyo investigated how plants transport the nutrient boron. This chemical element is essential for plant growth but toxic to the plant cells at high concentrations.

The team noticed that although boron in the soil does not vary unexpectedly, plants have developed elaborate and energy-sapping systems that rapidly respond to boron. These include genetically programmed transporters that respond very rapidly to changes in the...
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