Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Closeup of wheat crops covered in water droplets

Wheat leaves (pictured) are so water-repellent that they can launch pathogen-laden dewdrops into the air. Credit: Aaron Riemer/EyeEm/Getty

Biophysics

A plant’s sneeze spreads disease

Some plants send dewdrops hurtling off their leaves — and pathogens tag along.

Just as the common cold can spread through a cough, plant diseases can spread through pathogen-packed droplets that jump off leaves — a plant’s version of a sneeze.

Scientists already knew that wind and splashes of rainwater can move bacteria and other pathogens from leaf to leaf. In a search for other transmission routes, Jonathan Boreyko at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and his colleagues filmed tiny dewdrops merging on wheat (Triticum aestivum) leaves, which are extremely water repellent. When the drops coalesced, their surface tension was released and converted into kinetic energy, which catapulted the merged droplet as far as 5 millimetres from the leaf.

The researchers found that jumping droplets could disperse spores of Puccinia triticina, a fungus that causes the devastating plant disease leaf rust. As many as 100 fungal spores could be launched from a single leaf every hour. Once hurled into the air by dewdrops, the spores could be transferred to neighbouring plants by just a gentle breeze, the scientists say.

More Research Highlights...

Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

The intestinal contents of a man killed in a prehistoric ritual (clockwise from upper left): barley, charred food that had been encrusted in a clay pot, flax seeds and sand. Credit: Peter Steen Henriksen, the Danish National Museum

Archaeology

The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
Illustration of Earth with white lines showing the magnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field (depicted as white lines in this artist’s impression) can be studied with observations from a constellation of commercial satellites. Credit: Mikkel Juul Jensen/Science Photo Library

Geophysics

Telecoms satellites’ new purpose: spying on Earth’s magnetic field

Clues to the forces generated by the planet’s core emerge from observations intended for satellite navigation.
Ageing of an artwork with graphene

After 130 hours of artificial ageing by visible light, the painting Triton and Nereid has lost some of the purple tint to the figures’ right, but a graphene film kept the bright pink at upper left undimmed. Credit: M. Kotsidi et al./Nature Nanotechnol.

Materials science

A graphene cloak keeps artworks’ colours ageless

A layer of carbon atoms preserves a painting’s vibrant hues — and can be applied and removed without damage.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing

Search

Quick links