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Farmers in India are using the "cuddle chemical" oxytocin to boost plant growth, particularly of pumpkins and cucumbers.

Oxytocin is known to affect social behaviour in humans, as well as facilitating birth and breastfeeding, reports New Scientist magazine. However, the precise mechanism by which an animal hormone might stimulate plant development remains unclear.

The authorities in India want to ban the practice, as "indiscriminate use of oxytocin may cause health hazards if taken through vegetables over a period of time". The use of oxytocin in farming has become prevalent in the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab regions in northern India.

However, plant experts at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden and Durham University, UK, are unclear how it help in the development of plant. They are sceptical of any claims that oxytocin improves plant growth and development. They have speculated that it may be mimicking an unidentified plant peptide involved in growth.

"It is unlikely, but not impossible that there could be an effect in plants, but I seriously doubt that this would massively impact on crop yields in most situations," Malcolm Hawkesford of Rothamsted Research was quoted as saying by the New Scientist


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