FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | Tue Jun 10 16:42:03 EDT 2008

Electric shocks can help plants boost production of useful chemicals

Get ready for some shocking news about plants! Everyone knows that plants help people. Plants provide us with apples, oranges, wheat, and other food. Plants like corn and soybeans feed the cows, chickens, and other animals that give us meat, milk and eggs. Plants also provide people with other products, such as the cotton cloth in our T-shirts and blue jeans. The air we breathe? Yup. Thank you plants of the world!

Many people don’t know about other gifts from plants. For example, the chemicals in plants give us life-saving medicines. At least 25 percent of the medicines that doctors prescribe come from plants. Chemicals from plants give us repellants to protect us from the bites of annoying insects like flies and mosquitoes, and many other products.

Now chemists in Arizona have discovered a way to make plants produce more of certain useful substances. Their method is a real shocker! In a new study, Hans VanEtten and his team discovered that zapping plants with small amounts of electricity makes them produce higher levels of certain chemicals.

The shocks do not seem to harm the plants. It may be a faster and less expensive way of boosting plants’ production of chemicals that serve people, the scientists said.

A full report on their research appeared in ACS’ Biotechnology Progress, a journal for scientists.

Listen to the audio version of this story on ACS’ Bytesize Science, an educational, entertaining podcast for young listeners. Listen to Bytesize Science in iTunes. No iTunes? No problem. Check out the latest episodes of Bytesize Science in your Web browser.

— Mark T. Sampson