A new research into plants' response to drought has shown there is a chemical link between the process of drooping in plants and impotence in humans.Dr Steven J. Neill and colleagues, from the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, have found that nitric oxide which facilitates erections in humans also helps to close stomata, the small pores on plant leaves that regulate the plant's loss of water and keep it from withering.
Previous research has found that the stress hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is involved in closing stomata. The new research is the first to reveal the essential role of nitric oxide.
"This substance, well known as a signal molecule in humans, is made in response to ABA and causes the formation of a messenger molecule that acts inside the guard cell," said Dr Neill.
Guard cells are the cells surrounding the stomata pores, which close and open in response to various signals."This offers a new opportunity to manipulate a plant's water requirements which could impact significantly on crop productivity," he said.
"The opening and closing of stomata control evaporation and impact on humidity and ultimately on climate," he said. "But our knowledge about the mechanism by which they do this is sparse."
He said that there was great interest in the role of nitric oxide-related signalling in plants and animals. "A lot of features of animals and plants are similar at fundamental levels and people are constantly surprised at this."However, he thought the fact that nitric oxide was involved in keeping both plants and human male organs upright was perhaps a little bit of a coincidence.