New drugs to treat schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease may be tested on plants, following the discovery of similarities between the way plants and humans respond. Researchers at the Chinese University say their work on the nerve system of plants could slash the amount of money and time it takes to develop new medicines. Dr Lam Hon-ming of the biology department said plants, like humans, had 'glutamate receptors' that reacted to nerve signals. Malfunctioning receptors led to brain disorders in people, and he had found that plant growth was affected by exposure to a compound blocking human receptors. 'It's quite a breakthrough to find such a similarity between plants and humans - nobody believed it before,' Dr Lam said. 'We may in future use plants as a laboratory material to test medicine used for mental diseases. 'Usually you use a rat or other animal and it's quite expensive.' Dr Lam said the research, which took four years and cost about US$500,000 (HK$3.87 million) to complete, could also boost food production. Plants' receptors could be manipulated to produce vegetables with more leaves, or flowers with longer stems and more buds.