Several past studies have indicated that dodder use chemical cues to find their host plants. But Westwood has uncovered a genetic means of communication as well - an exchange of RNA, a substance that translates information in the DNA forming an organism's genetic blueprint. He reports that many thousands of mRNA molecules were being exchanged between the parasite and host, creating this open dialogue between the species that allows them to freely communicate.
VIDEO: Plants Can Hear You!
"The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized," the scientist said in a Virginia Tech press release. "Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, ‘What exactly are they telling each other?'"
One possibility: Dodder may be telling the host to lower its defenses and allow it to drain nutrients.
A study published in Nature in 2013 also found that damaged leaves on trees can communicate with one another electrically, in a fashion similar to the way that the nervous system in a human or animal will transmit signals from one injured organ to another.