Essay: Plant Biology Shoot Architecture Enhances

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[. . .] In terms of plant root systems, for example, soil teems with various bacteria and fungi. In numerous cases, these have evolved together, so that the bacteria or fungi assist the plant and in return increase their own nutritional intake. With bacteria, the process is generally known as "nitrogen fixation." The bacteria that grow around the root systems provide a source of fixed nitrogen which is used by the plant in the formation of chemical compounds. The process occurred when the bacteria, which are anaerobic and thus undergo respiration in an environment with no oxygen -- the bacteria provide the plant with nitrogen while in turn the plant protects the bacteria from oxygen.

A different sort of symbiotic relationship occurs between plant root systems and fungi. Mycorrhizae -- which literally means "fungus roots" -- are in essence a symbiotic arrangement of root systems with underground fungus. The fungus has a safe place to live and is supplied with sugar by the host plant, but in return the fungus is beneficial for the plant with which it has the relationship. The fungus spreads and grows in a way that expands the plants overall area for water absorption and ultimately can select specific chemicals (like phosphates) which are useful for the plant. The fungus has also evolved to produce other compounds that are beneficial to the plant in other ways -- either to increase root growth or to produce antibiotic agents that protect the plant from hostile bacteria.

One final and particularly unusual form of co-evolution is involved in carnivorous plants. These plants -- such as the famous Venus flytrap -- live in swampy environments with acidic soil which lacks adequate nitrogen. The plant has evolved in some way to attract the insect or small animal, and then essentially "digests" it by secreting chemical compounds that break down the animal organism into its consitutent parts -- thus providing the plant with the nitrogen it fails to get through its root system. This is not precisely symbiosis, of course, because it is not beneficial to both the Venus flytrap and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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