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Plant Signal Behav. 2010 March; 5(3): 290–292.
PMCID: PMC2881281

Root growth is affected differently by mechanical wounding in seedlings of the ecological model species Nicotiana attenuata and the molecular model species Arabidopsis thaliana


In the ecological model plant Nicotiana attenuata, leaf wounding or herbivory lead to a reduction of root growth via jasmonic acid (JA) signaling. A single wounding treatment is sufficient to induce this response; multiple wounding does not increase the plant growth reaction. in a recent study, in which JA bursts were elicited in leaves of the molecular model species Arabidopsis thaliana in different ways,1 we tested whether JA induces the same response there. Root growth reduction was neither induced by foliar application of herbivore oral secretions nor by direct application of methyl jasmonate to leaves. Root growth reduction was observed when leaves were infected with the pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato, which persistently induces the JA signaling pathway. Yet, growth analyses of this effect in wild type and JA-signaling mutants showed that it was elicited by the bacterial toxin coronatine which suggests ethylene—but not JA-induced root growth reduction in A. thaliana. Moreover, the growth effects were somewhat masked by a light-induced diurnal decrease of root growth. Overall, we conclude that the reaction of root growth to herbivore-induced JA signaling differs among species, which is related to different ecological defence strategies that have evolved in different species.

Key words: coronatine, ethylene, image analysis, phytohormones, Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato, wounding

Upon pathogen or herbivore attack, plants have to meet the decision how much of their resources are invested in growth processes and how much into defense. The ecological model species Nicotiana attenuata increases defence measures and decreases root, but not leaf growth immediately after a single simulated herbivory event.2 This reaction is elucidated via jasmonic acid (JA) signaling.3 The intensity of root growth reduction is not amplified when multiple wounding events occur (Fig. 1A). This clearly demonstrates that wounding acts as a signal for the reduction of root growth and that root growth is not reduced due to a lack of growth resources as a consequence of a resource-based trade-off between growth and defence. This hypothesis is further supported by the finding that a surplus of carbohydrates is stored in the root system,4 which thereby acts as a safe retreat for future re-growth of the plant after herbivore damage.

Figure 1
Root growth in Nicotiana attenuata and Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings. (A) Root growth dynamics of Nicotiana attenuata seedlings after single and multiple wounding treatments as well as multiple wounding treatments followed by application of oral secretions ...

We asked ourselves whether this is a general reaction pattern that is followed in more plant species. To test this, we performed a suite of experiments on the molecular model species Arabidopsis thaliana.1 Several studies showed that direct application of JA or methyl jasmonate (MeJA), which is commonly used to mimick herbivory-induced signaling, to the cultivation medium decrease root growth of A. thaliana. Yet, in contrast to the situation in N. attenuata, the application of MeJA to leaves did not lead to a decrease in root growth. To exclude the possibility that the MeJA applied to the leaf was not taken up by the plants, we induced plant-internal JA bursts by mechanical wounding and/or application of bacteria. The treatments were performed on Col-0 and Col-6 wild type plants. Additionally, two mutants defective in the JA signaling pathway were used to select for JA-induced effects. coi1-1 (coronatine-insensitive) is known to lack the F-box protein COI1 and shows decreased sensitivity to JA application compared to wild type plants.5 The aos mutant, in contrast, is unable to produce JA following mechanical wounding as the biosynthesis of the rate-limiting enzyme allene oxide synthase is blocked.6

Upon mechanical wounding of two leaves with sterile tweezers, JA concentration in the seedlings increased and root growth decreased rapidly, but only very transiently in all four investigated A. thaliana lines. In contrast to the situation in N. attenuata, root growth in A. thaliana recovered to pre-treatment levels within a few hours (Fig. 1B) and growth was not further decreased upon addition of oral secretions of Spodoptera littoralis larvae. This suggests that the observed short-term growth reduction was caused by hydraulic decrease of the plant growth potential. A slight, but continuous decrease of root growth during the day was noted both in wounded and in control plants that were not completely protected from ambient light in the transparent Petri dishes. When root systems were completely protected from ambient light by shading, root growth was almost steady throughout 24 h (Fig. 1B).

In another experimental approach to clarify the connection between JA signaling and root growth reduction, we infected leaves with the avirulent Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato (Pst) DC3000 avrRpt2 strain. Upon mechanical wounding and application of bacterial suspension in order to facilitate infection, root growth decreased more rapidly than upon mere wounding. In the course of two days after infection, vTip was lower in the wild types and the aos mutant suggesting that JA was not the major reason of the decrease of root growth. With Pst DC3000 deficient in coronatine biosynthesis, it was verified that the bacterial toxin was the major reason of the root growth reduction following Pst infection. Using the ethylene reception blocker 1-methyl cyclopropene (1-MCP), ethylene was also figured out to be involved in coronatine-mediated root growth impairment in Arabidopsis. Thus, root growth of Arabidopsis is more sensitive to ethylene than to JA which is very different to observations on N. attenuata.

The conclusion has to be drawn that elicitation of JA-bursts in the leaves of A. thaliana does not induce the same root growth reactions as in N. attenuata, although roots of both species react towards MeJA externally applied to the cultivation medium. This in turn demonstrates clearly that the interpretation of the JA signal differs between species. Possibly, this reflects different survival strategies to which the two investigated annual rosette species have evolved. While N. attenuata uses the root as a safe retreat for resources allowing later re-growth after the herbivore threat has passed by, A. thaliana is more successful in its ecological niche if it does not slow down growth in response to herbivory but continues its development as rapidly as possible.


Addendum to: Schmidt L, Hummel GM, Schurr U, Schöottner M, Walter A. Jasmonic acid does not mediate root growth responses to wounding in Arabidopsis thalianaPlant Cell Environm2009 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2009.02062.x.



1. Schmidt L, Hummel GM, Schurr U, Schöttner M, Walter A. Jasmonic acid does not mediate root growth responses to wounding in Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Cell Environm. 2010;33:104–116. [PubMed]
2. Hummel GM, Naumann M, Schurr U, Walter A. Root growth dynamics of Nicotiana attenuata seedlings are affected by simulated herbivore attack. Plant Cell Environm. 2007;30:1326–1336. [PubMed]
3. Hummel GM, Schurr U, Baldwin IT, Walter A. Herbivore-induced jasmonic acid bursts in leaves of Nicotiana attenuata mediate short-term reductions in root growth. Plant Cell and Environm. 2009;32:134–143. [PubMed]
4. Schwachtje J, Minchin PEH, Jahnke S, van Dongen JT, Schittko U, Baldwin IT. SNF1-related kinases allow plants to tolerate herbivory by allocating carbon to roots. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006;103:12935–12940. [PubMed]
5. Feys BJF, Benedetti CE, Penfold CN, Turner JG. Arabidopsis mutants selected for resistance to the phytotoxin coronatine are male-sterile, insensitive to methyl jasmonate and resistant to a bacterial pathogen. Plant Cell. 1994;6:751–759. [PubMed]
6. Park JH, Halitschke R, Kim HB, Baldwin IT, Feldmann KA, Feyereisen R. A knock-out mutation in allene oxide synthase results in male sterility and defective wound signal transduction in Arabidopsis due to a block in jasmonic acid biosynthesis. Plant J. 2002;31:1–12. [PubMed]

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