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Walk in the park yields biological treasure

ple decide what becomes a model organism, when in fact it's just individuals who decide what can be collected and what will work. The problem with these flies is you can't freeze the eggs, you can't store them. You need to keep things alive."

Sharing a hotel room with flies

When Whiteman traveled across the country to join the faculty at the UA, the flies traveled with him.

"I kept them in the back of my car, in cages. I was bringing them into hotel rooms."

Next, Whiteman's research group had to show that the flies and Arabidopsis plants could be used as a model system.

"There is a lot of research going on trying to figure out what biochemical pathways plants use to cope with insect attacks," said Whiteman. "Now we can tackle these questions in much more detail."

As one might expect, over the course of evolution, host plants have developed numerous ways to ward off parasites, such as chemicals that are toxic to the insects or throw a wrench into their development in some way.

Whiteman and his coworkers found that Arabidopsis plants ramp up their production of proteins that mess with the insects' digestive tract.

"The idea is that the plant is making it difficult for the insect to digest it," Whiteman explained. "It's very complicated, we don't really know what's going on at a molecular level."

To address this question, the researchers compared how well larvae fared on defenseless, mutant plants unable to make the indigestive proteins compared to their kin raised on wild-type plants.

"From those analyses, we do know that it has an effect on the larvae; they don't do as well," Whiteman said. "The plants put up their defense in response to the insects being present. If you're a fly, living on something that is trying to kill you is different from living on, say, a rotting apple," Whiteman said.

"We also know that once a plant turns on one defensive pa

Contact: Daniel Stolte
University of Arizona

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