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Plant Physiol. 1990 Oct;94(2):401-5.

Cyanogenesis in plants.

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  • 1Department of Botany, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.


Several thousand plant species, including many economically important food plants, synthesize cyanogenic glycosides and cyanolipids. Upon tissue disruption, these natural products are hydrolyzed liberating the respiratory poison hydrogen cyanide. This phenomenon of cyanogenesis accounts for numerous cases of acute and chronic cyanide poisoning of animals including man. This article reviews information gathered during the past decade about the enzymology and molecular biology of cyanogenesis in higher plants. How compartmentation normally prevents the large-scale, suicidal release of HCN within the intact plant is discussed. A renewed interest in the physiology of these cyanogenic compounds has revealed that, in addition to providing protection for some species against herbivory, they may also serve as storage forms for reduced nitrogen.

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