Westwood's new work expands the 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 new found 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 witch weed 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."