Scientists learn how plants manipulate their soil environment to assure a cheap, steady supply of nutrients

Researchers in Rice University’s Systems, Synthetic and Physical Biology program detailed how plants have evolved to call for nutrients, using convenient bacteria as a delivery service.

Their open-access report in Science Advances looks at how plants read the local environment and, when necessary, make and release molecules called flavonoids. These molecules attract microbes that infect the plants and form nitrogen nodules—where food is generated—at their roots.

When nitrogen is present and available, plants don’t need to order in. Their ability to sense the presence of a nearby slow-release nitrogen source, organic carbon, is the key.