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Plant J. 2004 May;38(4):639-49.

Herbivore-induced plant vaccination. Part I. The orchestration of plant defenses in nature and their fitness consequences in the wild tobacco Nicotiana attenuata.

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Department of Molecular Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll-Str. 8, Jena 07745, Germany.


A plant's responses to attack from particular pathogens and herbivores may result in resistance to subsequent attack from the same species, but may also affect different species. Such a cross-resistance, called immunization or vaccination, can benefit the plant, if the fitness consequences of attack from the initial attacker are less than those from subsequent attackers. Here, we report an example of naturally occurring vaccination of the native tobacco plant, Nicotiana attenuata, against Manduca hornworms by prior attack from the mirid bug, Tupiocoris notatus (Dicyphus minimus), which results from the elicitation of two categories of induced plant responses. First, attack from both herbivore species causes the plants in nature to release predator-attracting volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the attracted generalist predator, Geocoris pallens, preferentially attacks the less mobile hornworm larvae. Second, attack from both mirids and hornworms increases the accumulation of secondary metabolites and proteinase inhibitors (PIs) in the leaf tissue, which is correlated with the slow growth of Manduca larvae. Mirid damage does not significantly reduce the fitness of the plant in nature, whereas attack from the hornworm reduces lifetime seed production. Consequently, plants that are attacked by mirids realize a significant fitness advantage in environments with both herbivores. The combination of growth-slowing direct defenses and predator-attracting indirect defenses results in greater hornworm mortality on mirid-attacked plants and provides the mechanism of the vaccination phenomenon.

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