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Study Finds Plant Defense Layer has Unexpected Effect on Volatile Compounds

Natalia Dudareva and colleagues found that the cuticle of petunia flowers acts as a sink for volatile compounds. Photo courtesy of Purdue Agricultural Communications by Tom Campbell.

A Purdue University biochemist and her colleagues have pioneered new methods for increasing production of volatile compounds important for plant defenses and for use in biofuels, pharmaceuticals and other products. While investigating how plants can more efficiently emit those compounds, Natalia Dudareva’s team also found an unanticipated factor playing a role in plant cellular functions—a plant’s cuticle.

“We learned that the cuticle is a sink, and if you don’t have that sink, the cells shut down production of those volatiles,” Dudareva said. “This makes increasing emissions more complicated than we once thought, but sheds light on factors that can affect production of these compounds.”

Going forward, Dudareva and her team will continue working on methods to increase emission of volatile compounds in plants, including investigating how thickening the cuticle might affect production and emissions. The National Science Foundation and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded this work. For more information, read the Purdue University article.

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