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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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Summary

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.