Natures wonders: whiteflies fool tomato plant defenses (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Thursday, April 04, 2019, 21:27 (231 days ago) @ dhw

They are caused to release the wrong danger signal:

"Don’t blame the tomato. Tiny pests called silverleaf whiteflies can make a tomato plant spread deceptive scents that leave its neighbors vulnerable to attach.

"Sap-sucking Bemisia tabaci, an invasive menace to a wide range of crops, are definitely insects. Yet when they attack a tomato plant, prompting a silent shriek of scents, the plant starts smelling as if bacteria or fungi have struck instead. Those phony odors prime neighboring tomato plants for an attack, but not from an insect, an international research team found.

"Those plants prepare to mount a fast and strong resistance against an incoming pathogen. But that high alert suppresses the plants’ chemistry for resisting insects and “leaves them far more vulnerable to the whiteflies when they arrive,” says Xiao-Ping Yu, an entomologist at China Jiliang University in Hangzhou.

"Tomato plants that spent 24 hours in a chamber with just the odor of a major whitefly attack managed to produce only half the surge of an insect-fighter hormone as plants taken by surprise by an insect attack, Yu and colleagues report March 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Plant defense chemistry often poses this one-or-the-other dilemma. To put up a good fight against insects, plants typically rev up a system of defenses controlled by the hormone jasmonic acid, or JA. But throwing that system into full gear suppresses the defenses controlled by salicylic acid, SA, which are more useful against pathogens.

"The pathogen prep may not be a complete waste of effort for the plants. Whiteflies function like mosquitoes for plants, spreading viruses and other diseases. Even drops of whitefly pee, sometimes called honeydew, attract sooty mold.

“'Maybe the plant is more worried about diseases,” says study coauthor Ted Turlings, a chemical ecologist at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. In the short term, the deceptive signal costs the neighbor plants because whitefly infestations get off to a strong start. But the diseases whiteflies bring may mean the SA defenses could be useful in the end.
“We will try to explore this in follow-up research,” he says."

Comment: As the article explains this may be an overreaction of the plant rather than a deliberate action by he pest. The important point really is plans have strong defenses as they sense danger. Plants are not as inert as they appear.

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