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Fast growth, low defense -- plants facing a dilemma

Date:
January 28, 2011
Source:
University of Zurich
Summary:
Ecologists and plant biologists demonstrate that fast plant growth is achieved at the expense of natural defense mechanisms. The new findings are important for agricultural crops, as such crops usually have been bred for high yield which at the same time reduced their natural resistance to herbivores.

For their study, the researchers planted different "knockout"-mutants of the same genotype of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. They then harvested a subset of these plants in evenly distributed intervals to measure the biomass growth over the whole plant life
Credit: UZH

Plants are attacked by a multitude of insects and mammals. As defense against these herbivores they developed complex defense mechanisms over the course of evolution: spines, thorns, leaf hairs and a number of toxic chemical substances. For decades it has been controversially discussed whether the production of defense traits incurs costs to the plants.

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Now, using a new method the ecologists and plant biologists of the University of Zόrich together with their American colleagues demonstrate these costs accurately in a Proceedings of the Royal Society article.

For their study, the researchers planted different "knockout"-mutants of the same genotype of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. They then harvested a subset of these plants in evenly distributed intervals to measure the biomass growth over the whole plant life. "Mutants with suppressed defense mechanisms showed an increased growth rate" Tobias Zόst explains the result of his study. But the faster growth comes at an added cost: aphids reproduce faster on these plants than on slow growing plants with intact defense mechanisms. This is a result of the fact that fast growing plants provide more resources to the herbivore than slow growing plants in the same amount of time.

The study shows that natural resistance is often not compatible with fast growth. This finding is of great importance for agricultural crops: These crops have been selected for high yield and as a consequence have very low natural resistance to herbivores, consequentially requiring high input of insecticides.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Zurich. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. T. Zust, B. Joseph, K. K. Shimizu, D. J. Kliebenstein, L. A. Turnbull. Using knockout mutants to reveal the growth costs of defensive traits. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2475

Cite This Page:

University of Zurich. "Fast growth, low defense -- plants facing a dilemma." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110128104238.htm>.
University of Zurich. (2011, January 28). Fast growth, low defense -- plants facing a dilemma. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110128104238.htm
University of Zurich. "Fast growth, low defense -- plants facing a dilemma." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110128104238.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

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