By Cole Hill ( | First Posted: Feb 01, 2013 08:57 PM EST
Tags Plants

From sickeningly cute memes of dogs caring for kittens, to "paying it forward" at Starbucks, everyone's heard stories of random acts of kindness. Now, a new study suggests plants have an altruistic side as well, and can also be withholding jerks, according to

Led by University of Colorado researchers Pamela Diggle, Chi-Chih Wu and William Friedman, the new study looked at corn, in which each fertilized seed contained two "siblings" - an embryo and a corresponding piece of tissue known as endosperm that feeds the embryo as the seed grows, said CU professor Diggle. Researchers compared the growth and behavior of the embryos and endosperm in seeds that shared the same mother and father against the growth and behavior of embryos and endosperm that had genetically different parents.

"The results indicated embryos with the same mother and father as the endosperm in their seed weighed significantly more than embryos with the same mother but a different father," said Diggle. "We found that endosperm that does not share the same father as the embryo does not hand over as much food-it appears to be acting less cooperatively," she said, essentially proving right every grade-school bully who ever hurled "red-headed step child" as an insult.

Diggle said that its obvious now from previous research that plants practice preferential treatment with their "children", and can decide to withhold nutrients from what they deem inferior offspring when resources are limited.

"Our study is the first to specifically test the idea of cooperation among siblings in plants," said Friedman.

"One of the most fundamental laws of nature is that if you are going to be an altruist, give it up to your closest relatives. Altruism only evolves if the benefactor is a close relative of the beneficiary. When the endosperm gives all of its food to the embryo and then dies, it doesn't get more altruistic than that."

Wow. Is it just us, or did you also just get the idea for the most depressing Pixar movie ever?

Humans depend on endosperm - in the form of corn, rice, wheat, and other crops - for providing about 70 percent of the calories we consume annually worldwide, according to

"The tissue in the seeds of flowering plants is what feeds the world," said Friedman, who also directs the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard. "If flowering plants weren't here, humans wouldn't be here."

The team published its findings in earlier in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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