Quirks & Quarks

Plants Can Tell Who Is Bugging Them

Plants detect and respond differently to different species of herbivore.
Cabbage butterfly caterpillars attacking Arabidopsis plant (Roger Meissen)
Arabidopsis is a well-studied model plant in the cabbage family. From previous studies, it was known that the plant reacts chemically as a defence against herbivorous insects that are attacking it.

But scientists, including Dr. Heidi Appel from the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri, wanted to find out exactly how sensitive Arabidopsis was to different species of insect. In an experiment, they subjected the plant to two different species of caterpillar, and two different species of aphid.

Analysis of genes expressed by the plant during the attacks showed that Arabidopsis responded differently to the two types of insect. The different type of attack - the chewing of the caterpillar versus the sucking of the aphid - provided signature clues to the plant as to who was attacking.

Related Links

Paper in Plant Science
- University of Missouri release
- Washington Post story