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Survival strategies in nature

nses, that work with components of the plants' community (natural enemies etc). All this functional complexity has made it difficult to figure what really matters in the rough and tumble of nature.

Genetic transformation of plants provides a valuable tool to manipulate traits that mediate these complex interactions and allows an integrative analysis of single traits. However, the evaluation of transformants is usually performed in the greenhouse with known challenges, not the vast number of unknowns that occur in nature. Moreover, the scientific value of transformed plants in ecological research has been an unfortunate casualty of the polarized debate surrounding the use of transformed plants in agriculture.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology report an exciting discovery about a plant trait that determines the composition of the herbivore community, which was made by genetically silencing different components of a signaling pathway that mediates induced resistance in a native plant, and planting these plants back out into their native habitat.

The researcher transformed the wild tobacco species Nicotiana attenuata, to express LOX3, HPL and AOS in an antisense orientation. All three enzymes are key regulators in the oxylipin pathway (see Figure below) and are known to play major roles in the plants' wound recognition. However, their defensive function has only been tested in laboratory studies. When planted into native habitats, LOX3-deficient plants were more vulnerable to N. attenuata's adapted herbivores but also attracted two novel herbivore species, which fed and reproduced successfully. These results demonstrate that jasmonate signaling determines host selection for opportunistic herbivores and that induced defences influence herbivore community composition.

Plants growing in natural habitats are under relentless pressure from herbivores. We are simply unaware of many of these attackers becaus
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Contact: Prof. Dr. Ian T. Baldwin
baldwin@ice.mpg.de
49-364-157-1101
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
5-Jul-2004


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