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Searching for the mechanisms and functions of plant olfaction

Perception of chemical cues in the form of volatile odorants released by other animals, plants and the environment is essential for informing and directing behavior. Volatiles from damaged neighbors, or from remote parts of the same plant, can directly regulate or prime plant defense. In the wild tobacco Nicotiana attenuata, although there is little evidence of defense responses to neighbor volatiles, plants show a large and complex transcriptional response to the presence or absence of C6 aldehydes, alcohols and esters (“green leaf volatiles”) in the volatiles emitted from damaged neighbors. Although the consequences of this transcriptional re-orchestration are yet unknown, the response to green leaf volatiles (GLVs) may impact the fitness of N. attenuata plants growing in competition with conspecific neighbors – a situation which is the norm in the large, post-fire monocultures formed in barren burns by this species: N. attenuata germinates after fires in response to cues in smoke and the absence of inhibitors from competing vegetation.
The goal of this project is to determine the phenotypic response of N. attenuata plants to GLVs from conspecific neighbors, and to quantify the ecological consequences for the responding “receiver” plant and its emitting neighbor. The core question is whether the emission or perception of neighbor volatiles is adaptive, i.e., whether it increases the Darwinian fitness of the receiver or the neighbor. If not, it indicates that other functions of neighbor volatiles, such as attraction of predatory or parasitic insects detrimental to herbivores, might provide their adaptive value, but leaves us with the question of why plants are able to perceive neighbor volatiles at all. The project focuses on : identification of genes involved in GLV perception and generating markers of GLV responsiveness.
last updated on 2012-07-19