Wall cress adapts to environmental conditions by sensing information through touch which triggers biochemical growth controls. 


Wall cress is a small flowering plant, often found growing as a weed on roadsides and along farm fields. Its lower leaves tend to hug the ground but the stem height can vary. Some plants stay short and sturdy while those in other locations may reach around 9 inches tall. The cress plant adapts to surrounding conditions by controlling its growth in response to touch.


The Strategy

When forces such as wind or rain impact the plant, certain genes switch on and make a called calmodulin. Calmodulin causes an increase in calcium ions, signaling the plant to change its growth patterns.

This touch-response system in plants is called thigmomorpho-genesis. It allows some plants to sense challenges to their growth and to prepare for similar challenges in the future. For example, wall cress plants growing in windy locations tend to be shorter than those in protected areas.

The Potential

This method of having form adapt to external physical pressure could drastically improve the efficiency or effectiveness of many machines and processes. Wind turbines could change shape or size depending on weather conditions. Weight-training equipment could respond to the exact force exerted by each user at each moment. Bridges or buildings could slowly reinforce themselves as needed.


This strategy was contributed by Heather Dove.

Last Updated August 18, 2016