PLANT SCIENCE: Mix-and-Match Warfare

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Science  11 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5873, pp. 157b
DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5873.157b

Many secondary metabolites are produced by plants for defensive use against insect predators. Insects, in turn, develop their own countermeasures and may end up using the plant's metabolites as a signal to target, rather than to avoid, that plant. Added complications are that the suite of predators changes seasonally, and groups of plants have different vulnerabilities than do isolated plants—with the result that a plant is best served by a nimble tactical approach for the flexible deployment of its defensive weaponry.

Glucosinolates, one category of secondary metabolites, show considerable biochemical diversity owing to the enzymes that generate their derivatives. Wentzell and Kliebenstein have analyzed the diversity of glucosinolate production in Arabidopsis. Their results show that different pieces of the plant make different product profiles that are fine-tuned by the age of the plant and the local population density. Variability in the profile of glucosinolate derivatives among different accessions of Arabidopsis highlights the influence of additional modifier factors, enabling the plant to balance the risks of detection against the effectiveness of defense in its production of glucosinolate derivatives. — PJH

Plant Physiol. 146, 10.1104/pp.107.115279 (2008).

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