Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Eavesdropping plants prepare to be attacked

08.08.2013
In a world full of hungry predators, prey animals must be constantly vigilant to avoid getting eaten. But plants face a particular challenge when it comes to defending themselves.

"One of the things that makes plants so ecologically interesting is that they can't run away," says John Orrock, a zoology professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. "You can't run, you can't necessarily hide, so what can you do? Some plants make themselves less tasty."

Some do this either by boosting their production of toxic or unpleasant-tasting chemicals (think cyanide, sulfurous compounds, or acids) or through building physical defenses such as thorns or tougher leaves.

But, he adds, "Defense is thought to come at a cost. If you're investing in chemical defenses, that's energy that you could be putting into growth or reproduction instead."

To balance those costs with survival, it may behoove a plant to be able to assess when danger is nigh and defenses are truly necessary. Previous research has shown that plants can induce defenses against herbivores in response to airborne signals from wounded neighbors.

But cues from damaged neighbors may not always be useful, especially for the first plant to be attacked, Orrock says. Instead he asked whether plants — here, black mustard, a common roadside weed — can use other types of cues to anticipate a threat.

In a presentation Aug. 6 at the 2013 Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, he and co-author Simon Gilroy, a UW–Madison botany professor, reported that the plants can eavesdrop on herbivore cues to mount a defensive response even before any plant is attacked.

Slugs and snails are generalist herbivores that love to munch on mustard plants and can't help but leave evidence of their presence — a trail of slime, or mucus. Where there's slime, there's a snail. So Orrock treated black mustard seeds or new seedlings with snail mucus, then tested how appealing the resulting plants were to hungry snails.

The result? Getting slimed made the plants become less palatable. "That shows that plants are paying attention to generalist herbivore cues and that they turn on their defenses before they even get attacked," says Orrock.

What's more, they used the information in a time-sensitive way. Plants exposed only as seeds were eaten more — evidence of lower defenses — than those exposed as seedlings.

"The more recently they receive the information about impending attack, the more likely they are to use the information to defend themselves," he says. "Not only do they eavesdrop, they eavesdrop in a sophisticated way."

With Gilroy, Orrock is now exploring the genetics — and possibly evolution — of induced defenses. "If selection is strong enough from generalist snail herbivores to drive the evolution of eavesdropping by plants, then it might be far more common than we think," he says.

-- Jill Sakai, 608-262-9772, jasakai@wisc.edu

Sidebar:

How did they do that? Collecting snail slime

"It's not easy to get mucus out of a snail," says John Orrock. For one thing, "they make three different kinds."

The UW–Madison zoology professor used snail slime to show that black mustard plants can use cues of predator proximity to trigger defense mechanisms against the hungry snails.

But his first challenge was collecting enough slime to treat the plants. Initially he turned the snails upside down and tapped them, but what bubbled up was just defensive mucus, not the locomotion mucus (or "slime trail") he sought.

Ultimately he devised a low-tech but effective solution: let the snails crawl around overnight on a piece of filter paper lining the bottom of a small plastic deli container, then wash the filter paper and use the resulting slime water to treat the seeds and plants.

"One thing that's so cool about ecology is that you can do really enlightening experiments very simply. Clearly, if you're interested in the molecular or chemical aspects of the question, this isn't going to cut it. But if you want to know if a plant gets paranoid with slime? This," Orrock says, shaking the container, "plus snails equals results."

John Orrock | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

Further reports about: Cyanide Eavesdropping acids mustard plant sulfurous compounds

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Preservation of floodplains is flood protection
27.09.2017 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Salmonella as a tumour medication

HZI researchers developed a bacterial strain that can be used in cancer therapy

Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

3rd Symposium on Driving Simulation

23.10.2017 | Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microfluidics probe 'cholesterol' of the oil industry

23.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light

23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

The end of pneumonia? New vaccine offers hope

23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>