Nature's strategies: A plant that stands and fights

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Science  02 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6379, pp. 985
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6379.985

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Unlike those of us on legs, plants can't run away from what they don't like—yet they show remarkable resilience when under attack. Consider how the wild tobacco plant (Nicotiana attenuata), a meter-high native of North America, protects itself from hungry insects. The plant senses the amino acid compounds in a caterpillar's saliva and responds with a hydraulic or electrical pulse through its stems and leaves. Within minutes, the plant's cells rev up their production of nicotine, a poison that interferes with an animal's muscle function. At the same time, the plant calls in help by emitting a scent that attracts ground-dwelling bugs and other caterpillar eaters and then putting up chemical signposts to guide those predators to their already sluggish prey. Finally, a plant under siege redirects its resources, putting off flowering and growing until the caterpillars are gone.