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The influence of intact-plant and excised-leaf bioassay designs on volicitin- and jasmonic acid-induced sesquiterpene volatile release in Zea mays

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Induced plant responses to insect attack include the release of volatile chemicals. These volatiles are used as host-location signals by foraging parasitoids, which are natural enemies of insect herbivores. A plant's response to herbivory can be influenced by factors present in insect oral secretions. Volicitin (N-(17-hydroxylinolenoyl)-L-glutamine), identified in beet armyworm (Spodoptera exigua) oral secretions, stimulates volatile release in corn (Zea mays L.) seedlings in a manner similar to beet armyworm herbivory. Volicitin is hypothesized to trigger release of induced volatiles, at least in part, by modulating levels of the wound hormone, jasmonic acid (JA). We compare the sesquiterpene volatile release of damaged leaves treated with aqueous buffer only or with the same buffer containing volicitin or JA. Leaves were damaged by scratching with a razor and test solutions were applied to the scratched area. The leaves were either excised from the plant or left intact shortly after this treatment. Plants were treated at three different times (designated as Evening, Midnight, and Morning) and volatiles were collected in the subsequent photoperiod. JA and volicitin treatments stimulated the release of volatile sesquiterpenes, namely β-caryophyllene, (E)-α-bergamotene, and (E)-β-farnesene. In all cases, JA stimulated significant sesquiterpene release above mechanical damage alone. Volicitin induced an increase in sesquiterpene volatiles for all excised-leaf bioassays and the Midnight intact plants. Volicitin treatments in the Evening and Morning intact plants produced more sesquiterpenes than the untreated controls, while mechanical damage alone produced an intermediate response that did not differ from either treatment group. Excised leaves produced a 2.5- to 8.0-fold greater volatile response than similarly treated intact plants. Excision also altered the ratio of JA-and volicitin-induced sesquiterpene release by preferentially increasing (E)-β-farnesene levels relative to β-caryophyllene. The inducibility of volatile release varied with time of treatment. On average, sesquiterpene release was highest in the Midnight excised leaves and lowest in the Morning intact plants. The duration of induced volatile release also differed between treatments. On average, JA produced a sustained release of sesquiterpenes over time, with over 20% of the combined sesquiterpenes released in the third and final volatile collection period. In contrast, less than 8% of the combined sesquiterpenes induced by volicitin were emitted during this period. The large quantitative differences between intact plants and detached leaves suggest that the results of assays using excised tissues should be cautiously interpreted when considering intact-plant models.

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Schmelz, E.A., Alborn, H.T. & Tumlinson, J.H. The influence of intact-plant and excised-leaf bioassay designs on volicitin- and jasmonic acid-induced sesquiterpene volatile release in Zea mays . Planta 214, 171–179 (2001).

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