Plant Science

Adding Oregano to Corn

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Science  28 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5944, pp. 1048-1049
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_1048d

Many plants emit signals to augment their defenses against attack by insects; some of these signals are known to work by attracting predators of the attackers. Maize roots under threat from larvae of the western corn rootworm normally emit the terpene caryophyllene, which serves to mobilize nematodes that then kill these larvae. However, most cultivated maize has lost the capacity to produce this terpene.

Degenhardt et al. have engineered transgenic maize plants that carry a caryophyllene synthase gene from oregano. This manipulation restored the production of this compound, with the consequence that nematodes reduced the number of rootworms by more than half, resulting in much less root damage. This finding confirms that nematodes can be recruited effectively by caryophyllene and provides the basis for a pest biocontrol strategy to improve cultivated plants.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106, 13213 (2009).

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