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J Chem Ecol. 2006 Feb;32(2):261-75. Epub 2006 Mar 16.

Phenotypic plasticity of cyanogenesis in lima bean Phaseolus lunatus-activity and activation of beta-glucosidase.

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  • 1Department of Botany, University of Duisburg-Essen, Universit√§tsstr. 5, 45117 Essen, Germany.


Cyanogenesis, the release of toxic HCN from damaged plant tissues, is generally considered as a constitutive plant defense. We found phenotypic plasticity of cyanogenesis in young leaves of lima bean Phaseolus lunatus based on increased activity of the beta-glucosidase in response to herbivore attack. Two aspects of plant cyanogenesis have to be considered in ecological analyses: (1) the cyanogenic potential (HCNp), which indicates the total amount of cyanide-containing compounds present in a given tissue, and (2) the cyanogenic capacity (HCNc), representing the release of HCN per unit time. This release is catalyzed by specific beta-glucosidases, whose activity is a crucial parameter determining overall toxicity. Enzymatic activity of beta-glucosidase-and, in consequence, the rate of HCN release-was increased significantly after 72 hr of incubation with spider mites as compared to non-infested leaves. Feeding by L1 larvae of Mexican bean beetles also led to enhanced enzymatic activity, whereas mechanical damage of leaf tissue had no effect on beta-glucosidase activity and the release of HCN. The results place plant cyanogenesis in the group of induced resistance traits, whose degree of activity depends on the feeding by a particular herbivore.

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