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Lethal backfire: Green odor with fatal consequences for voracious caterpillars
Date:8/26/2010

This press release is available in German.

Plants have developed a sophisticated defense system. They can not only directly fend off herbivores by producing toxins, but also do so indirectly by emitting odorant molecules into the atmosphere that are perceived by predatory insects; these predators are lured to the attacked plant and feed on the herbivore or parasitize it thereby providing a benefit for the plant.

Since the discovery of indirect defense strategies in plants, ecologists have been interested in the molecular mechanisms and the course of events underlying them. For example, almost all plants switch on some of their defenses only when an herbivore is actually attacking them. But how does the plant recognize the attack from the herbivore? "The plant cannot see its attacker, but plants can sense the digestive substances that attacking larvae have in their oral secretions when these substances come into contact with the leaves," Silke Allmann, PhD student in the Department of Molecular Ecology, headed by Prof. Ian Baldwin, assumes. Ian Baldwin's department is looking for plant substances, signal transduction chains and metabolic pathways after herbivore attack.

Recently, the scientists' attention was drawn to substances in tobacco plants called "green leaf volatiles" (GLV); GLV are compounds released by plants after mechanical damage. These molecules are responsible for the typical smell of freshly cut grass. Last year the green odorant substances of tobacco were examined more carefully. The scientists found that the amount of a certain GLV, namely (E)-2-hexenal, suddenly increased after oral secretions of Manduca sexta larvae had been applied on wounded leaves. In tobacco plants the aldehyde, hexanal, is present in two isomeric forms: (Z)-3-hexenal and (E)-2-hexenal. Z-E conversions can be catalyzed by specific enzyme
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Contact: Ian T. Baldwin
baldwin@ice.mpg.de
49-017-518-04226
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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