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Current Research (PhD Thesis):

Understanding the Role of Trichomes in Plant-Herbivore Interactions

Trichomes can be called the “first line of defense” in plant-herbivore interactions. In their function as epidermal extensions they are the first plant parts to come into contact with attacking insects. Trichomes have been shown to accumulate many secondary metabolites such as terpenoids and phenolic compounds. Some of these compounds are biological active e.g. toxic to insects, and inhibit growth. The defensive role of these compounds is not exclusive for plant-insect interaction because some of them are assumed to play also a role in plant-plant interactions.

The aim of this work is to elucidate the ecological function of glandular hairs from N. attenuata, a wild tobacco. Therefore I would like to characterize the composition of chemicals secreted or produced in trichomes. Trichome exudates consist in large part of sucrose ester, where the sugar is esterified by short fatty acids (C3-C7). These compounds are known to break down the insect’s outer waxy coating and by this causing water loss and death of the insect by dehydration. Sucrose esters are thought to enhance both drug solubility and drug absorption in mammals. However little is known about how these esters are regulated in plants either before or after herbivore attack. Studying these sucrose esters could reveal another important defense mechanism in N. attenuata.