Calcium-dependent protein kinases (CDPKs) modulate plant development and growth and are important regulators of biotic and abiotic stress responses. Recently it was found that simultaneously silencing Nicotiana attenuata NaCDPK4 and NaCDPK5 (IRcdpk4/5 plants) results in accumulation of exceptionally high JA levels after wounding or simulated herbivory treatments, which in turn induced high levels of defense metabolites that slowed the growth of Manduca sexta, a specialist insect herbivore. To investigate the mechanism by which NaCDPK4 and NaCDPK5 regulate JA accumulation, we analyzed the transcript levels of all important enzymes involved in JA biosynthesis, but these genes showed no differences between wild-type and IRcdpk4/5 plants. Moreover, the dynamics of JA were similar between these plants, excluding the possibility of decreased degradation rates in IRcdpk4/5 plants. To gain insight into the mechanism by which NaCDPK4 and NaCDPK5 regulate JA biosynthesis, free fatty acids, including C18:3, and (9S,13S)-12-oxo-phytodienoic acid (OPDA), two important precursors of JA were quantified at different times before and after wounding and simulated herbivore feeding treatments. We show that after these treatments, IRcdpk4/5 plants have decreased levels of C18:3, but have enhanced OPDA and JA levels, suggesting that NaCDPK4 and NaCDPK5 have a role in the early steps of JA biosynthesis. The possible role of NaCDPK4 and NaCDPK5 regulating AOS and AOC enzymatic activity is discussed.
CDPK; jasmonic acid; defense; herbivore; insect; wounding
By precisely manipulating the expression of individual genetic elements thought to be important for ecological performance, reverse genetics has the potential to revolutionize plant ecology. However, untested concerns about possible side-effects of the transformation technique, caused by Agrobacterium infection and tissue culture, on plant performance have stymied research by requiring onerous sample sizes. We compare 5 independently transformed Nicotiana attenuata lines harboring empty vector control (EVC) T-DNA lacking silencing information with isogenic wild types (WT), and measured a battery of ecologically relevant traits, known to be important in plant-herbivore interactions: phytohormones, secondary metabolites, growth and fitness parameters under stringent competitive conditions, and transcriptional regulation with microarrays. As a positive control, we included a line silenced in trypsin proteinase inhibitor gene (TPI) expression, a potent anti-herbivore defense known to exact fitness costs in its expression, in the analysis. The experiment was conducted twice, with 10 and 20 biological replicates per genotype. For all parameters, we detected no difference between any EVC and WT lines, but could readily detect a fitness benefit of silencing TPI production. A statistical power analyses revealed that the minimum sample sizes required for detecting significant fitness differences between EVC and WT was 2–3 orders of magnitude larger than the 10 replicates required to detect a fitness effect of TPI silencing. We conclude that possible side-effects of transformation are far too low to obfuscate the study of ecologically relevant phenotypes.
The adage from Shakespeare, "troubles, not as single spies, but in battalions come," holds true for Nicotiana attenuata, which is commonly attacked by both pathogens (Pseudomonas spp.) and herbivores (Manduca sexta) in its native habitats. Defense responses targeted against the pathogens can directly or indirectly influence the responses against the herbivores. Nadefensin is an effective induced defense gene against the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv tomato (PST DC3000), which is also elicited by attack from M. sexta larvae, but whether this defense protein influences M. sexta's growth and whether M. sexta-induced Nadefensin directly or indirectly influences PST DC3000 resistance are unknown.
M. sexta larvae consumed less on WT and on Nadefensin-silenced N. attenuata plants that had previously been infected with PST DC3000 than on uninfected plants. WT plants infected with PST DC3000 showed enhanced resistance to PST DC3000 and decreased leaf consumption by M. sexta larvae, but larval mass gain was unaffected. PST DC3000-infected Nadefensin-silenced plants were less resistant to subsequent PST DC3000 challenge, and on these plants, M. sexta larvae consumed less and gained less mass. WT and Nadefensin-silenced plants previously damaged by M. sexta larvae were better able to resist subsequent PST DC3000 challenges than were undamaged plants.
These results demonstrate that Na-defensin directly mediates defense against PST DC3000 and indirectly against M. sexta in N. attenuata. In plants that were previously infected with PST DC3000, the altered leaf chemistry in PST DC3000-resistant WT plants and PST DC3000-susceptible Nadefensin-silenced plants differentially reduced M. sexta's leaf consumption and mass gain. In plants that were previously damaged by M. sexta, the combined effect of the altered host plant chemistry and a broad spectrum of anti-herbivore induced metabolomic responses was more effective than Nadefensin alone in resisting PST DC3000.
Jasmonic acid is an important regulator of plant growth, development and defense. The jasmonate-ZIM domain (JAZ) proteins are key regulators in jasmonate signaling ubiquitously present in flowering plants but their functional annotation remains largely incomplete. Recently, we identified 12 putative JAZ proteins in native tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata, and initiated systematic functional characterization of these proteins by reverse genetic approaches. In this report, Nicotiana attenuata plants silenced in the expression of NaJAZd (irJAZd) by RNA interference were used to characterize NaJAZd function. Although NaJAZd transcripts were strongly and transiently up-regulated in the rosette leaves by simulated herbivory treatment, we did not observe strong defense-related phenotypes, such as altered herbivore performance or the constitutive accumulation of defense-related secondary metabolites in irJAZd plants compared to wild type plants, both in the glasshouse and the native habitat of Nicotiana attenuata in the Great Basin Desert, Utah, USA. Interestingly, irJAZd plants produced fewer seed capsules than did wild type plants as a result of increased flower abscission in later stages of flower development. The early- and mid-developmental stages of irJAZd flowers had reduced levels of jasmonic acid and jasmonoyl-L-isoleucine, while fully open flowers had normal levels, but these were impaired in NaMYB305 transcript accumulations. Previously, NaMYB305-silenced plants were shown to have strong flower abscission phenotypes and contained lower NECTARIN 1 transcript levels, phenotypes which are copied in irJAZd plants. We propose that the NaJAZd protein is required to counteract flower abscission, possibly by regulating jasmonic acid and jasmonoyl-L-isoleucine levels and/or expression of NaMYB305 gene in Nicotiana attenuata flowers. This novel insight into the function of JAZ proteins in flower and seed development highlights the diversity of functions played by jasmonates and JAZ proteins.
Plants produce metabolites that directly decrease herbivore performance, and as a consequence, herbivores are selected for resistance to these metabolites. To determine whether these metabolites actually function as defenses requires measuring the performance of plants that are altered only in the production of a certain metabolite. To date, the defensive value of most plant resistance traits has not been demonstrated in nature. We transformed native tobacco(Nicotiana attenuata) with a consensus fragment of its two putrescine N-methyl transferase (pmt) genes in either antisense or inverted-repeat (IRpmt) orientations. Only the latter reduced (by greater than 95%) constitutive and inducible nicotine. With D4-nicotinic acid (NA), we demonstrate that silencing pmt inhibits nicotine production, while the excess NA dimerizes to form anatabine. Larvae of the nicotine-adapted herbivore Manduca sexta (tobacco hornworm) grew faster and, like the beetle Diabrotica undecimpunctata, preferred IRpmt plants in choice tests. When planted in their native habitat, IRpmt plants were attacked more frequently and, compared to wild-type plants, lost 3-fold more leaf area from a variety of native herbivores, of which the beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua, and Trimerotropis spp. grasshoppers caused the most damage. These results provide strong evidence that nicotine functions as an efficient defense in nature and highlights the value of transgenic techniques for ecological research.
Transgenic plants confirm the role that nicotine has in protecting tobacco plants from predators in nature and demonstrates the power of transgenic tools in studying ecological interactions in the field
RNAi can be achieved in insect herbivores by feeding them host plants stably transformed to express double stranded RNA (dsRNA) of selected midgut-expressed genes. However, the development of stably transformed plants is a slow and laborious process and here we developed a rapid, reliable and transient method. We used viral vectors to produce dsRNA in the host plant Nicotiana attenuata to transiently silence midgut genes of the plant's lepidopteran specialist herbivore, Manduca sexta. To compare the efficacy of longer, undiced dsRNA for insect gene silencing, we silenced N. attenuata's dicer genes (NaDCL1- 4) in all combinations in a plant stably transformed to express dsRNA targeting an insect gene.
Stable transgenic N. attenuata plants harboring a 312 bp fragment of MsCYP6B46 in an inverted repeat orientation (ir-CYP6B46) were generated to produce CYP6B46 dsRNA. After consuming these plants, transcripts of CYP6B46 were significantly reduced in M. sexta larval midguts. The same 312 bp cDNA was cloned in an antisense orientation into a TRV vector and Agro-infiltrated into N. attenuata plants. When larvae ingested these plants, similar reductions in CYP6B46 transcripts were observed without reducing transcripts of the most closely related MsCYP6B45. We used this transient method to rapidly silence the expression of two additional midgut-expressed MsCYPs. CYP6B46 transcripts were further reduced in midguts, when the larvae fed on ir-CYP6B46 plants transiently silenced for two combinations of NaDCLs (DCL1/3/4 and DCL2/3/4) and contained higher concentrations of longer, undiced CYP6B46 dsRNA.
Both stable and transient expression of CYP6B46 dsRNA in host plants provides a specific and robust means of silencing this gene in M. sexta larvae, but the transient system is better suited for high throughput analyses. Transiently silencing NaDCLs in ir-CYP6B46 plants increased the silencing of MsCYP6B46, suggested that insect's RNAi machinery is more efficient with longer lengths of ingested dsRNA.
In a wild tobacco plant, Nicotiana attenuata, two mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), salicylic acid-induced protein kinase (SIPK) and wound-induced protein kinase (WIPK), play central roles in modulating herbivory-induced phytohormone and anti-herbivore secondary metabolites. However, the identities of their upstream MAPK kinases (MAPKKs) were elusive. Ectopic overexpression studies in N. benthamiana and N. tabacum suggested that two MAPKKs, MKK1 and MEK2, may activate SIPK and WIPK. The homologues of MKK1 and MEK2 were cloned in N. attenuata (NaMKK1 and NaMEK2) and a virus-induced gene silencing approach was used to knock-down the transcript levels of these MAPKK genes. Plants silenced in NaMKK1 and NaMEK2 were treated with wounding or simulated herbivory by applying the oral secretions of the specialist herbivore Manduca sexta to wounds. MAPK activity assay indicated that after wounding or simulated herbivory NaMKK1 is not required for the phosphorylation of NaSIPK and NaWIPK; in contrast, NaMEK2 and other unknown MAPKKs are important for simulated herbivory-elicited activation of NaSIPK and NaWIPK, and after wounding NaMEK2 probably does not activate NaWIPK but plays a minor role in activating NaSIPK. Consistently, NaMEK2 and certain other MAPKKs, but not NaMKK1, are needed for wounding- and simulated herbivory-elicited accumulation of jasmonic acid (JA), JA–isoleucine, and ethylene. Furthermore, both NaMEK2 and NaMKK1 regulate the levels of trypsin proteinase inhibitors. The findings underscore the complexity of MAPK signalling pathways and highlight the importance of MAPKKs in regulating wounding- and herbivory-induced responses.
Defence; ethylene; herbivory; jasmonic acid; mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase; trypsin proteinase inhibitors
Pectin methylesterases (PMEs) catalyse the demethylation of pectin within plant cell walls, releasing methanol (MeOH) in the process. Thus far, PMEs have been found to be involved in diverse processes such as plant growth and development and defence responses against pathogens. Herbivore attack increases PME expression and activity and MeOH emissions in several plant species. To gain further insights into the role of PMEs in defence responses against herbivores, the expression of a Manduca sexta oral secretion (OS)-inducible PME in Nicotiana attenuata (NaPME1) was silenced by RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated gene silencing. Silenced lines (ir-pme) showed 50% reduced PME activity in leaves and 70% reduced MeOH emissions after OS elicitation compared with the wild type (WT), demonstrating that the herbivore-induced MeOH emissions originate from the demethylation of pectin by PME. In the initial phase of the OS-induced jasmonic acid (JA) burst (first 30 min), ir-pme lines produced WT levels of this hormone and of jasmonyl-isoleucine (JA-Ile); however, these levels were significantly reduced in the later phase (60–120 min) of the burst. Similarly, suppressed levels of the salicylic acid (SA) burst induced by OS elicitation were observed in ir-pme lines even though wounded ir-pme leaves contained slightly increased amounts of SA. This genotype also presented reduced levels of OS-induced trypsin proteinase inhibitor activity in leaves and consistently increased M. sexta larvae performance compared with WT plants. These latter responses could not be recovered by application of exogenous MeOH. Together, these results indicated that PME contributes, probably indirectly by affecting cell wall properties, to the induction of anti-herbivore responses.
Defence; herbivory; jasmonic acid; Manduca; methanol; Nicotiana; pectin methylesterase; proteinase inhibitor
BAK1 is a co-receptor of brassinosteroid (BR) receptor BRI1, and plays a well-characterized role in BR signalling. BAK1 also physically interacts with the flagellin receptor FLS2 and regulates pathogen resistance. The role of BAK1 in mediating Nicotiana attenuata's resistance responses to its specialist herbivore, Manduca sexta, was examined here. A virus-induced gene-silencing system was used to generate empty vector (EV) and NaBAK1-silenced plants. The wounding- and herbivory-induced responses were examined on EV and NaBAK1-silenced plants by wounding plants or simulating herbivory by treating wounds with larval oral secretions (OS). After wounding or OS elicitation, NaBAK1-silenced plants showed attenuated jasmonic acid (JA) and JA-isoleucine bursts, phytohormone responses important in mediating plant defences against herbivores. However, these decreased JA and JA-Ile levels did not result from compromised MAPK activity or elevated SA levels. After simulated herbivory, NaBAK1-silenced plants had EV levels of defensive secondary metabolites, namely, trypsin proteinase inhibitors (TPIs), and similar levels of resistance to Manduca sexta larvae. Additional experiments demonstrated that decreased JA levels in NaBAK1-VIGS plants, rather than the enzymatic activity of JAR proteins or Ile levels, were responsible for the reduced JA-Ile levels observed in these plants. Methyl jasmonate application elicited higher levels of TPI activity in NaBAK1-silenced plants than in EV plants, suggesting that silencing NaBAK1 enhances the accumulation of TPIs induced by a given level of JA. Thus NaBAK1 is involved in modulating herbivory-induced JA accumulation and how JA levels are transduced into TPI levels in N. attenuata.
BAK1; defence; herbivory; jasmonic acid (JA); jasmonic acid-isoleucine (JA-Ile); Nicotiana attenuata; SERK; trypsin proteinase inhibitor
The commonly invoked cost-benefit paradigm, central to most of functional biology, explains why one phenotype cannot be optimally fit in all environments; yet it is rarely tested. Trypsin proteinase inhibitors (TPIs) expression in Nicotiana attenuata is known to decrease plant fitness when plants compete with unattacked conspecifics that do not produce TPIs and also to decrease the performance of attacking herbivores.
In order to determine whether the putative benefits of TPI production outweigh its cost, we transformed N. attenuata to silence endogenous TPI production or restore it in a natural mutant that was unable to produce TPIs. We compared the lifetime seed production of N. attenuata genotypes of the same genetic background with low or no TPI to that of genotypes with high TPI levels on which M. sexta larvae were allowed to feed freely. Unattacked low TPI-producing genotypes produced more seed capsules than did plants with high TPI levels. Caterpillar attack reduced seed capsule production in all genotypes and reversed the pattern of seed capsule production among genotypes. M. sexta larvae attacking genotypes with high TPI activity consumed more TPI, less protein, and move later to the young leaves. Larval masses were negatively correlated (R2 = 0.56) with seed capsule production per plant.
Our results demonstrate that the fitness benefits of TPI production outweigh their costs in greenhouse conditions, when plants are attacked and that despite the ongoing evolutionary interactions between plant and herbivore, TPI-mediated decreases in M. sexta performance translates into a fitness benefit for the plant.
Plants trigger and tailor defense responses after perception of the oral secretions (OS) of attacking specialist lepidopteran larvae. Fatty acid-amino acid conjugates (FACs) in the OS of the Manduca sexta larvae are necessary and sufficient to elicit the herbivory-specific responses in Nicotiana attenuata, an annual wild tobacco species. How FACs are perceived and activate signal transduction mechanisms is unknown.
We used SuperSAGE combined with 454 sequencing to quantify the early transcriptional changes elicited by the FAC N-linolenoyl-glutamic acid (18:3-Glu) and virus induced gene silencing (VIGS) to examine the function of candidate genes in the M. sexta-N. attenuata interaction. The analysis targeted mRNAs encoding regulatory components: rare transcripts with very rapid FAC-elicited kinetics (increases within 60 and declines within 120 min). From 12,744 unique Tag sequences identified (UniTags), 430 and 117 were significantly up- and down-regulated ≥ 2.5-fold, respectively, after 18:3-Glu elicitation compared to wounding. Based on gene ontology classification, more than 25% of the annotated UniTags corresponded to putative regulatory components, including 30 transcriptional regulators and 22 protein kinases. Quantitative PCR analysis was used to analyze the FAC-dependent regulation of a subset of 27 of these UniTags and for most of them a rapid and transient induction was confirmed. Six FAC-regulated genes were functionally characterized by VIGS and two, a putative lipid phosphate phosphatase (LPP) and a protein of unknown function, were identified as important mediators of the M. sexta-N. attenuata interaction.
The analysis of the early changes in the transcriptome of N. attenuata after FAC elicitation using SuperSAGE/454 has identified regulatory genes involved in insect-specific mediated responses in plants. Moreover, it has provided a foundation for the identification of additional novel regulators associated with this process.
When attacked by herbivores, plants produce toxic secondary metabolites that function as direct defenses, as well as indirect defenses that attract and reward predators of the offending herbivores. These indirect defenses include both nutritive rewards such as extra floral nectar, as well as informational rewards, such as the production and release of volatile compounds that betray the location of feeding herbivores to predators. Herbivory of Nicotiana attenuata by the tobacco hornworm (Manduca larvae) alters the volatile profiles of both the plant and larval headspace. Herbivory-elicited specific changes in the volatile profiles are detected by arthropod predators of Manduca larvae. The known predators that perceive volatile cues induced by Manduca herbivory of N. attenuata are insects that target Manduca at early developmental stages, when the larvae are still small; large, late-instar larvae may have outgrown these predation risks. However, here we offer evidence that branched chain aliphatic acids derived from the digestion of plant O-acyl sugars from trichomes may betray Manduca larvae to lizard predators during late developmental stages as well.
O-acyl sugars; body odor; frass odor; lizards; Manduca quinquemaculata; Manduca sexta; Nicotiana attenuata
S-nitrosoglutathione reductase (GSNOR) reduces the nitric oxide (NO) adduct S-nitrosoglutathione (GSNO), an essential reservoir for NO bioactivity. In plants, GSNOR has been found to be important in resistance to bacterial and fungal pathogens, but whether it is also involved in plant–herbivore interactions was not known. Using a virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) system, the activity of GSNOR in a wild tobacco species, Nicotiana attenuata, was knocked down and the function of GSNOR in defence against the insect herbivore Manduca sexta was examined. Silencing GSNOR decreased the herbivory-induced accumulation of jasmonic acid (JA) and ethylene, two important phytohormones regulating plant defence levels, without compromising the activity of two mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), salicylic acid-induced protein kinase (SIPK) and wound-induced protein kinase (WIPK). Decreased activity of trypsin proteinase inhibitors (TPIs) were detected in GSNOR-silenced plants after simulated M. sexta feeding and bioassays indicated that GSNOR-silenced plants have elevated susceptibility to M. sexta attack. Furthermore, GSNOR is required for methyl jasmonate (MeJA)-induced accumulation of defence-related secondary metabolites (TPI, caffeoylputrescine, and diterpene glycosides) but is not needed for the transcriptional regulation of JAZ3 (jasmonate ZIM-domain 3) and TD (threonine deaminase), indicating that GSNOR mediates certain but not all jasmonate-inducible responses. This work highlights the important role of GSNOR in plant resistance to herbivory and jasmonate signalling and suggests the potential involvement of NO in plant–herbivore interactions. Our data also suggest that GSNOR could be a target of genetic modification for improving crop resistance to herbivores.
Defence; ethylene; insect herbivore; jasmonic acid; jasmonate signalling; Manduca sexta; Nicotiana attenuata; S-nitrosoglutathione reductase (GSNOR); secondary metabolites; trypsin proteinase inhibitor
In a transcriptomic screen of Manduca sexta-induced N-acyltransferases in leaves of Nicotiana attenuata, we identified an N-acyltransferase gene sharing a high similarity with the tobacco lignin-biosynthetic hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA:shikimate/quinate hydroxycinnamoyl transferase (HCT) gene whose expression is controlled by MYB8, a transcription factor that regulates the production of phenylpropanoid polyamine conjugates (phenolamides, PAs). To evaluate the involvement of this HCT-like gene in lignin production as well as the resulting crosstalk with PA metabolism during insect herbivory, we transiently silenced (by VIGs) the expression of this gene and performed non-targeted (UHPLC-ESI/TOF-MS) metabolomics analyses. In agreement with a conserved function of N. attenuata HCT-like in lignin biogenesis, HCT-silenced plants developed weak, soft stems with greatly reduced lignin contents. Metabolic profiling demonstrated large shifts (up to 12% deregulation in total extracted ions in insect-attacked leaves) due to a large diversion of activated coumaric acid units into the production of developmentally and herbivory-induced coumaroyl-containing PAs (N′,N′′-dicoumaroylspermidine, N′,N′′-coumaroylputrescine, etc) and to minor increases in the most abundant free phenolics (chlorogenic and cryptochlorogenic acids), all without altering the production of well characterized herbivory-responsive caffeoyl- and feruloyl-based putrescine and spermidine PAs. These data are consistent with a strong metabolic tension, exacerbated during herbivory, over the allocation of coumaroyl-CoA units among lignin and unusual coumaroyl-containing PAs, and rule out a role for HCT-LIKE in tuning the herbivory-induced accumulation of other PAs. Additionally, these results are consistent with a role for lignification as an induced anti-herbivore defense.
A plant's inducible defenses against herbivores as well as certain developmental processes are known to be controlled by the jasmonic acid (JA) pathway. We have previously shown that ectopically expressing Arabidopsis thaliana JA O-methyltransferase in Nicotiana attenuata (35S-jmt) strongly reduces the herbivory-elicited jasmonate bursts by acting as metabolic sink that redirects free JA towards methylation; here we examine the consequences of this metabolic sink on N. attenuata's secondary metabolism and performance in nature. In the glasshouse, 35S-jmt plants produced fewer seed capsules due to shorter floral styles, which could be restored to wild type (WT) levels after hand-pollination, and were more susceptible to Manduca sexta larvae attack. When transplanted into the Great Basin Desert in Utah, 35S-jmt plants grew as well as WT empty vector, but were highly attacked by native herbivores of different feeding guilds: leaf chewers, miners, and single cell feeders. This greater susceptibility was strongly associated with reduced emissions of volatile organic compounds (hexenylesters, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) and profound alterations in the production of direct defenses (trypsin proteinase inhibitors [TPI], nicotine, diterpene glycosides [DTGs] and phenylpropanoid-polyamine conjugates) as revealed by a combination of targeted and metabolomics analyses of field collected samples. Complementation experiments with JA-Ile, whose formation is outcompeted in 35S-jmt plants by the methylation reaction, restored the local TPI activation to WT levels and partially complemented nicotine and DTG levels in elicited but not systemic leaves. These findings demonstrate that MeJA, the major JA metabolite in 35S-jmt plants, is not an active signal in defense activation and highlights the value of creating JA sinks to disrupt JA signaling, without interrupting the complete octadecanoid pathway, in order to investigate the regulation of plants' defense metabolism in nature.
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.
coronatine; ethylene; image analysis; phytohormones; Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato; wounding
Homeodomain-leucine zipper type I (HD-Zip I) proteins are plant-specific transcription factors associated with the regulation of growth and development in response to changes in the environment. Nicotiana attenuata NaHD20 was identified as an HD-Zip I-coding gene whose expression was induced by multiple stress-associated stimuli including drought and wounding. To study the role of NaHD20 in the integration of stress responses with changes in growth and development, its expression was silenced by virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS), and control and silenced plants were metabolically and developmentally characterized. Phytohormone profiling showed that NaHD20 plays a positive role in abscisic acid (ABA) accumulation in leaves during water stress and in the expression of some dehydration-responsive genes including ABA biosynthetic genes. Moreover, consistent with the high levels of NaHD20 expression in corollas, the emission of benzylacetone from flowers was reduced in NaHD20-silenced plants. Additionally, bolting time and the opening of the inflorescence buds was decelerated in these plants in a specific developmental stage without affecting the total number of flowers produced. Water stress potentiated these effects; however, after plants recovered from this condition, the opening of the inflorescence buds was accelerated in NaHD20-silenced plants. In summary, NaHD20 plays multiple roles in N. attenuata and among these are the coordination of responses to dehydration and its integration with changes in flower transitions.
ABA; benzylacetone; corolla; HD-Zip; Nicotiana
From an herbivore's first bite, plants release herbivory-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) which can attract enemies of herbivores. However, other animals and competing plants can intercept HIPVs for their own use, and it remains unclear whether HIPVs serve as an indirect defense by increasing fitness for the emitting plant. In a 2-year field study, HIPV-emitting N. attenuata plants produced twice as many buds and flowers as HIPV-silenced plants, but only when native Geocoris spp. predators reduced herbivore loads (by 50%) on HIPV-emitters. In concert with HIPVs, plants also employ antidigestive trypsin protease inhibitors (TPIs), but TPI-producing plants were not fitter than TPI-silenced plants. TPIs weakened a specialist herbivore's behavioral evasive responses to simulated Geocoris spp. attack, indicating that TPIs function against specialists by enhancing indirect defense.
As the population of the world continues to increase beyond 7 billion, and agricultural pests continue to rapidly evolve resistance to pesticides, it is becoming ever more important to cultivate arable land in a way that is sustainable for both humans and the environment. A better understanding of the different mechanisms used by wild plants to deter herbivores will help to increase crop production without harming the environment.
Plants use both direct and indirect methods to fend off herbivores. Direct defense methods include the production of chemicals that are toxic to herbivores or give them indigestion, and the growth of sticky prickles and spines that can injure or kill the herbivore. Indirect defense methods, on the other hand, generally rely on the plant attracting organisms that are either predators or parasites of the herbivore.
Plants produce odors known as herbivory-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) that are thought to offer indirect defense against herbivores by betraying their location to predators and parasites. However, HIPVs also influence other members of the ecological community, sometimes in ways that are detrimental to plants. Moreover, despite 30 years of research, no study has demonstrated that HIPVs increase the fitness of a plant, so it is unclear what they have evolved to do.
Now, a 2-year field study by Schuman et al. has shown plants that emit green leaf volatiles (which are a type of HIPV) produce twice as many buds and flowers—a measure of fitness—as plants that have been genetically engineered not to emit green leaf volatiles. This study was conducted with Nicotiana attenuata, which is a wild tobacco plant that is often targeted by Manduca sexta, a type of moth that is also known as the tobacco hornworm. Green leaf volatiles only increased plants' fitness when various species of Geocoris—a bug that preys on Manduca sexta—reduced the number of herbivores by a factor of two. This is the first evidence that HIPVs offer indirect defense against herbivores.
Schuman et al. also studied the effects of molecules called protease inhibitors that are thought to function as direct defenses by making it difficult for herbivores to digest plants. They found that the ability to produce protease inhibitors did not increase the fitness of plants under herbivore attack; however, tobacco hornworms that had been fed plants containing protease inhibitors were found to be more sluggish in response to attack, which suggests that protease inhibitors can enhance the indirect defenses of plants. The results suggest that employing both direct and indirect defenses—such as a combination of biological pesticides and genetic engineering to produce both HIPVs and protease inhibitors—is the best approach for defending agricultural plants against pests.
Nicotiana attenuata; HIPV (herbivory-induced plant volatile); plant-predator interaction; GLV (green leaf volatile); TPI (trypsin protease inhibitor); indirect defense; Other
A plant’s endogenous clock (circadian clock) entrains physiological processes to light/dark and temperature cycles. Forward and reverse genetic approaches in Arabidopsis have revealed the mechanisms of the circadian clock and its components in the genome. Similar approaches have been used to characterize conserved clock elements in several plant species. A wild tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata has been studied extensively to understand responses to biotic or abiotic stress in the glasshouse and also in their native habitat. During two decades of field experiment, we observed several diurnal rhythmic traits of N. attenuata in nature. To expand our knowledge of circadian clock function into the entrainment of traits important for ecological processes, we here report three core clock components in N. attenuata.
Protein similarity and transcript accumulation allowed us to isolate orthologous genes of the core circadian clock components, LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY), TIMING OF CAB EXPRESSION 1/PSEUDO-RESPONSE REGULATOR 1 (TOC1/PRR1), and ZEITLUPE (ZTL). Transcript accumulation of NaLHY peaked at dawn and NaTOC1 peaked at dusk in plants grown under long day conditions. Ectopic expression of NaLHY and NaZTL in Arabidopsis resulted in elongated hypocotyl and late-flowering phenotypes. Protein interactions between NaTOC1 and NaZTL were confirmed by yeast two-hybrid assays. Finally, when NaTOC1 was silenced in N. attenuata, late-flowering phenotypes under long day conditions were clearly observed.
We identified three core circadian clock genes in N. attenuata and demonstrated the functional and biochemical conservation of NaLHY, NaTOC1, and NaZTL.
Circadian clock; Flowering time; NaLHY; NaTOC1; NaZTL; Nicotiana attenuata; Protein interaction
Herbivory initiates a shift in plant metabolism from growth to defence that may reduce fitness in the absence of further herbivory. However, the defence-induced changes in carbon assimilation that precede this reallocation in resources remain largely undetermined. This study characterized the response of photosynthesis to herbivore induction of jasmonic acid (JA)-related defences in Nicotiana attenuata to increase understanding of these mechanisms. It was hypothesized that JA-induced defences would immediately reduce the component processes of photosynthesis upon attack and was predicted that wild-type plants would suffer greater reductions in photosynthesis than plants lacking JA-induced defences. Gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, and thermal spatial patterns were measured together with the production of defence-related metabolites after attack and through recovery. Herbivore damage immediately reduced electron transport and gas exchange in wild-type plants, and gas exchange remained suppressed for several days after attack. The sustained reductions in gas exchange occurred concurrently with increased defence metabolites in wild-type plants, whereas plants lacking JA-induced defences suffered minimal suppression in photosynthesis and no increase in defence metabolite production. This suppression in photosynthesis occurred only after sustained defence signalling and defence chemical mobilization, whereas a short bout of feeding damage only transiently altered components of photosynthesis. It was identified that lipoxygenase signalling interacted with photosynthetic electron transport and that the resulting JA-related metabolites reduced photosynthesis. These data represent a metabolic cost to mounting a chemical defence against herbivory and link defence-signalling networks to the differential effects of herbivory on photosynthesis in remaining leaf tissues in a time-dependent manner.
chlorophyll fluorescence; defence; lipoxygenase; nicotine; plant–insect interaction
Treatment with methyl jasmonate (MeJA) elicits herbivore resistance in many plant species and over-expression of JA carboxyl methyltransferase (JMT) constitutively increases JA-induced responses in Arabidopsis. When wild-type (WT) Nicotiana attenuata plants are treated with MeJA, a rapid transient endogenous JA burst is elicited, which in turn increases levels of nicotine and trypsin proteinase inhibitors (TPIs) and resistance to larvae of the specialist herbivore, Manduca sexta. All of these responses are impaired in plants silenced in lipoxygenase 3 expression (asLOX3) but are restored to WT levels by MeJA treatment. Whether these MeJA-induced responses are directly elicited by MeJA or by its cleavage product, JA, is unknown. Using virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS), we silenced MeJA-esterase (NaMJE) expression and found this gene responsible for most of the MeJA-cleaving activity in N. attenuata protein extracts. Silencing NaMJE in asLOX3, but not in WT plants, significantly reduced MeJA-induced nicotine levels and resistance to M. sexta, but not TPI levels. MeJA-induced transcript levels of threonine deaminase (NaTD) and phenylalanine ammonia lyase (NaPAL1) were also decreased in VIGS MJE (asLOX3) plants. Finally the performance of M. sexta larvae that fed on plants treated with JA or MeJA demonstrated that silencing NaMJE inhibited MeJA-induced but not JA-induced resistance in asLOX3 plants. From these results, we conclude that the resistance elicited by MeJA treatment is directly elicited not by MeJA but by its de-methylated product, JA.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00425-008-0690-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
MeJA esterase (NaMJE); Methyl jasmonate (MeJA); Jasmonate (JA); Nicotiana attenuata; Manduca sexta
Genetically modified plants are widely used in agriculture and increasingly in ecological research to enable the selective manipulation of plant traits in the field. Despite their broad usage, many aspects of unwanted transgene silencing throughout plant development are still poorly understood. A transgene can be epigenetically silenced by a process called RNA directed DNA methylation (RdDM), which can be seen as a heritable loss of gene expression. The spontaneous nature of transgene silencing has been widely reported, but patterns of acquirement remain still unclear.
Transgenic wild tobacco plants (Nicotiana attenuata) expressing heterologous genes coding for antimicrobial peptides displayed an erratic and variable occurrence of transgene silencing. We focused on three independently transformed lines (PNA 1.2, PNA 10.1 and ICE 4.4) as they rapidly lost the expression of the resistance marker and down-regulated transgene expression by more than 200 fold after only one plant generation. Bisulfite sequencing indicated hypermethylation within the 35S and NOS promoters of these lines. To shed light on the progress of methylation establishment, we successively sampled leaf tissues from different stages during plant development and found a rapid increase in 35S promoter methylation during vegetative growth (up to 77% absolute increase within 45 days of growth). The levels of de novo methylation were inherited by the offspring without any visible discontinuation. A secondary callus regeneration step could interfere with the establishment of gene silencing and we found successfully restored transgene expression in the offspring of several regenerants.
The unpredictability of the gene silencing process requires a thorough selection and early detection of unstable plant lines. De novo methylation of the transgenes was acquired solely during vegetative development and did not require a generational change for its establishment or enhancement. A secondary callus regeneration step provides a convenient way to rescue transgene expression without causing undesirable morphological effects, which is essential for experiments that use transformed plants in the analysis of ecologically important traits.
Induced defense responses to herbivores are generally believed to have evolved as cost-saving strategies that defer the fitness costs of defense metabolism until these defenses are needed. The fitness costs of jasmonate (JA)-mediated defenses have been well documented. Those of the early signaling units mediating induced resistance to herbivores have yet to be examined. Early signaling components that mediate herbivore-induced defense responses in Nicotiana attenuata, have been well characterized and here we examine their growth and fitness costs during competition with conspecifics. Two mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), salicylic acid (SA)-induced protein kinase (SIPK) and wound-induced protein kinase (WIPK) are rapidly activated after perception of herbivory and both kinases regulate herbivory-induced JA levels and JA-mediated defense metabolite accumulations. Since JA-induced defenses result in resource-based trade-offs that compromise plant productivity, we evaluated if silencing SIPK (irSIPK) and WIPK (irWIPK) benefits the growth and fitness of plants competiting with wild type (WT) plants, as has been shown for plants silenced in JA-signaling by the reduction of Lipoxygenase 3 (LOX3) levels.
As expected, irWIPK and LOX3-silenced plants out-performed their competing WT plants. Surprisingly, irSIPK plants, which have the largest reductions in JA signaling, did not. Phytohormone profiling of leaves revealed that irSIPK plants accumulated higher levels of SA compared to WT. To test the hypothesis that these high levels of SA, and their presumed associated fitness costs of pathogen associated defenses in irSIPK plants had nullified the JA-deficiency-mediated growth benefits in these plants, we genetically reduced SA levels in irSIPK plants. Reducing SA levels partially recovered the biomass and fitness deficits of irSIPK plants. We also evaluated whether the increased fitness of plants with reduced SA or JA levels resulted from increased nitrogen or CO2 assimilation rates, and found no evidence that greater intake of these fitness-limiting resources were responsible.
Signaling mediated by WIPK, but not SIPK, is associated with large fitness costs in competing N. attenuata plants, demonstrating the contrasting roles that these two MAPKs play in regulating the plants’ growth-defense balance. We discuss the role of SIPK as an important regulator of plant fitness, possibly by modulating SA-JA crosstalk as mediated through ethylene signaling.
Fitness costs; Induced defense; MAPK; Herbivory; Nicotiana attenuata; Salicylic acid; Jasmonic acid; Ethylene; Nitrogen; Photosynthesis
Herbivore feeding elicits dramatic increases in defenses, most of which require jasmonate (JA) signaling, and against which specialist herbivores are thought to be better adapted than generalist herbivores. Unbiased transcriptional analyses of how neonate larvae cope with these induced plant defenses are lacking.
We created cDNA microarrays for Manduca sexta and Heliothis virescens separately, by spotting normalized midgut-specific cDNA libraries created from larvae that fed for 24 hours on MeJA-elicited wild-type (WT) Nicotiana attenuata plants. These microarrays were hybridized with labeled probes from neonates that fed for 24 hours on WT and isogenic plants progressively silenced in JA-mediated defenses (N: nicotine; N/PI: N and trypsin protease inhibitors; JA: all JA-mediated defenses). H. virescens neonates regulated 16 times more genes than did M. sexta neonates when they fed on plants silenced in JA-mediated defenses, and for both species, the greater the number of defenses silenced in the host plant (JA > N/PI > N), the greater were the number of transcripts regulated in the larvae. M. sexta larvae tended to down-regulate while H. virescens larvae up- and down-regulated transcripts from the same functional categories of genes. M. sexta larvae regulated transcripts in a diet-specific manner, while H. virescens larvae regulated a similar suite of transcripts across all diet types.
The observations are consistent with the expectation that specialists are better adapted than generalist herbivores to the defense responses elicited in their host plants by their feeding. While M. sexta larvae appear to be better adapted to N. attenuata's defenses, some of the elicited responses remain effective defenses against both herbivore species. The regulated genes provide novel insights into larval adaptations to N. attenuata's induced defenses, and represent potential targets for plant-mediated RNAi to falsify hypotheses about the process of adaptation.
Some plants distinguish mechanical wounding from herbivore attack by recognizing specific constituents of larval oral secretions (OS) which are introduced into plant wounds during feeding. Fatty acid-amino acid conjugates (FACs) are major constituents of Manduca sexta OS and strong elicitors of herbivore-induced defense responses in Nicotiana attenuata plants.
The metabolism of one of the major FACs in M. sexta OS, N-linolenoyl-glutamic acid (18:3-Glu), was analyzed on N. attenuata wounded leaf surfaces. Between 50 to 70% of the 18:3-Glu in the OS or of synthetic 18:3-Glu were metabolized within 30 seconds of application to leaf wounds. This heat-labile process did not result in free α-linolenic acid (18:3) and glutamate but in the biogenesis of metabolites both more and less polar than 18:3-Glu. Identification of the major modified forms of this FAC showed that they corresponded to 13-hydroxy-18:3-Glu, 13-hydroperoxy-18:3-Glu and 13-oxo-13:2-Glu. The formation of these metabolites occurred on the wounded leaf surface and it was dependent on lipoxygenase (LOX) activity; plants silenced in the expression of NaLOX2 and NaLOX3 genes showed more than 50% reduced rates of 18:3-Glu conversion and accumulated smaller amounts of the oxygenated derivatives compared to wild-type plants. Similar to 18:3-Glu, 13-oxo-13:2-Glu activated the enhanced accumulation of jasmonic acid (JA) in N. attenuata leaves whereas 13-hydroxy-18:3-Glu did not. Moreover, compared to 18:3-Glu elicitation, 13-oxo-13:2-Glu induced the differential emission of two monoterpene volatiles (β-pinene and an unidentified monoterpene) in irlox2 plants.
The metabolism of one of the major elicitors of herbivore-specific responses in N. attenuata plants, 18:3-Glu, results in the formation of oxidized forms of this FAC by a LOX-dependent mechanism. One of these derivatives, 13-oxo-13:2-Glu, is an active elicitor of JA biosynthesis and differential monoterpene emission.