Emission of volatile organic compounds from petunia flowers is facilitated by an ABC transporter

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Science  30 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1386-1388
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0826

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Active transport of aromas

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) serve as invisible lines of communication among host plants, pathogens, commensals, community groups, and, with flowers, their pollinators. Studying petunia flowers, Adebesin et al. show that VOCs do not passively diffuse out of the cells but are actively shuttled across the plasma membrane by an ABC (ATP-binding cassette) transporter (see the Perspective by Eberl and Gershenzon). Disabling the transporter results in damage to the cell's membranes by intracellular accumulation of VOCs.

Science, this issue p. 1386; see also p. 1334


Plants synthesize a diversity of volatile molecules that are important for reproduction and defense, serve as practical products for humans, and influence atmospheric chemistry and climate. Despite progress in deciphering plant volatile biosynthesis, their release from the cell has been poorly understood. The default assumption has been that volatiles passively diffuse out of cells. By characterization of a Petunia hybrida adenosine triphosphate–binding cassette (ABC) transporter, PhABCG1, we demonstrate that passage of volatiles across the plasma membrane relies on active transport. PhABCG1 down-regulation by RNA interference results in decreased emission of volatiles, which accumulate to toxic levels in the plasma membrane. This study provides direct proof of a biologically mediated mechanism of volatile emission.

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