GENOMIC HARDWIRING AND PHENOTYPIC PLASTICITY OF TERPENOID-BASED DEFENSES IN CONIFERS
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Over evolutionary history, conifers have faced a myriad of threats from phloem- and xylem-feeding insects, defoliating insects, and fungal pathogens. Among the trees’ defenses, terpenoids appear to play a major role by harming, disabling, deterring, repelling, or otherwise reducing the fitness of potential invaders. Each of the three classes of terpenoids in conifers, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and diterpenes, are composed of a large number of representative compounds. In most cases, the presence of a particular terpenoid compound in the oleoresin or volatile emissions from a specific conifer can be accounted for by the expression of one of many committed terpene synthase (TPS) genes. However, while each TPS may produce one or a few major products, many produce a variety of minor products with relatively constant component ratios in the product blends. TPS genes exist in conifers in large and functionally diverse, yet monophyletic, gene families. Within these gene families, new biochemical functions of TPS appear to have evolved by gene duplication and changes in the amino acid sequence of the enzyme’s active site. In addition, TPS genes may be differentially expressed prior to, during, and following attack by insects or pathogens. Thus, while the production of any particular terpenoid is hardwired into a conifer’s genome, these trees have the capacity to change the mixture of terpenoids in oleoresin secretions and volatile emissions. Anatomical changes may also accompany induced terpenoid production, supplementing the plasticity of the molecular and biochemical events.
Key WordsSecondary metabolites methyl jasmonate traumatic resin ducts volatile emissions chemical defense terpene synthase conifer insect defense
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