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Molasses grass induces direct and indirect defense responses in neighbouring maize plants

Tolosa, Tigist A., Tamiru, Amanuel, Midega, Charles A. O., Van Den Berg, Johnnie, Birkett, Michael A., Woodcock, Christine M., Bruce, Toby J. A., Kelemu, Segenet, Pickett, John A. ORCID: and Khan, Zeyaur R. 2019. Molasses grass induces direct and indirect defense responses in neighbouring maize plants. Journal of Chemical Ecology 45 (11-12) , pp. 982-992. 10.1007/s10886-019-01122-z

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Plants have evolved intricate defence strategies against herbivore attack which can include activation of defence in response to stress-related volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by neighbouring plants. VOCs released by intact molasses grass (Melinis minutiflora), have been shown to repel stemborer, Chilo partellus (Swinhoe), from maize and enhance parasitism by Cotesia sesamiae (Cameron). In this study, we tested whether the molasses grass VOCs have a role in plant-plant communication by exposing different maize cultivars to molasses grass for a 3-week induction period and then observing insect responses to the exposed plants. In bioassays, C. partellus preferred non-exposed maize landrace plants for egg deposition to those exposed to molasses grass. Conversely, C. sesamiae parasitoid wasps preferred volatiles from molasses grass exposed maize landraces compared to volatiles from unexposed control plants. Interestingly, the molasses grass induced defence responses were not observed on hybrid maize varieties tested, suggesting that the effect was not simply due to absorption and re-emission of VOCs. Chemical and electrophysiological analyses revealed strong induction of bioactive compounds such as (R)-linalool, (E)-4,8-dimethyl-1,3,7-nonatriene and (E,E)-4,8,12-trimethyl-1,3,7,11-tridecatetraene from maize landraces exposed to molasses grass volatiles. Our results suggest that constitutively emitted molasses grass VOCs can induce direct and indirect defence responses in neighbouring maize landraces. Plants activating defences by VOC exposure alone could realize enhanced levels of resistance and fitness compared to those that launch defence responses upon herbivore attack. Opportunities for exploiting plant-plant signalling to develop ecologically sustainable crop protection strategies against devastating insect pests such as stemborer C. partellus are discussed.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Chemistry
Publisher: Springer Verlag (Germany)
ISSN: 0098-0331
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 3 January 2020
Date of Acceptance: 28 October 2019
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 06:04

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