Proton Transfer Reaction-Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS) analyses revealed that damaged Brassica roots emit sulfur-containing volatiles. B. nigra, B. juncea and B. napus emitted isothiocyanate markers, whereas B. rapa, B. oleracea, and B. carinata emitted methanethiol. These compounds can be used as markers for root damage by insect larvae and other below-ground herbivores.
Background and aims
Plants damaged by herbivores emit a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Here we used proton-transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) as a sensitive detection method for online analysis of herbivore-induced VOCs. Previously, it was found that Brassica nigra plants emit several sulfur-containing VOCs when attacked by cabbage root fly (Delia radicum) larvae with m/z 60 as a marker for the formation of allylisothiocyanate from the glucosinolate sinigrin. We tested the hypothesis that m/z 60 emission occurs only in plants with sinigrin in their roots. Additionally, we tested the hypothesis that methanethiol, dimethylsulfide and dimethyldisulfide are only emitted after larval infestation.
Proton-transfer reaction mass spectrometry was used to track sulfur-containing VOCs from six different species of Brassica over time. The roots were either artificially damaged or infested with cabbage root fly larvae. Glucosinolate profiles of the roots were analysed using high-pressure liquid chromatography and compared with VOC emissions.
Brassica nigra, B. juncea and B. napus primarily emitted m/z 60 directly after artificial damage or root fly infestation. Sulfide and methanethiol emissions from B. nigra and B. juncea also increased after larval damage but much later (6–12 h after damage). Brassica rapa, B. oleracea and B. carinata principally emitted methanethiol after artificial and after larval damage. Brassica oleracea and B. carinata showed some increase in m/z 60 emission after larval damage. Comparison with root glucosinolate profiles revealed that sinigrin cannot be the only precursor for m/z 60.
The principal compound emitted after root damage is determined by the plant species, and not by damage type or root glucosinolate composition. Once determined, the principal compounds may be used as markers for identifying damaged or infested plants. Further analyses of plant enzymes involved in the breakdown of sulfur compounds is needed to reveal the origin of sulfur-containing VOCs from plants.