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New Phytol. 2012 Mar;193(4):997-1008. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.04001.x. Epub 2011 Dec 20.

The major volatile organic compound emitted from Arabidopsis thaliana flowers, the sesquiterpene (E)-β-caryophyllene, is a defense against a bacterial pathogen.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.


Flowers have a high risk of pathogen attack because of their rich nutrient and moisture content, and high frequency of insect visitors. We investigated the role of (E)-β-caryophyllene in floral defense against a microbial pathogen. This sesquiterpene is a common volatile compound emitted from flowers, and is a major volatile released from the stigma of Arabidopsis thaliana flowers. Arabidopsis thaliana lines lacking a functional (E)-β-caryophyllene synthase or constitutively overexpressing this gene were challenged with Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato DC3000, which is a bacterial pathogen of brassicaceous plants. Flowers of plant lines lacking (E)-β-caryophyllene emission showed greater bacterial growth on their stigmas than did wild-type flowers, and their seeds were lighter and misshapen. By contrast, plant lines with ectopic (E)-β-caryophyllene emission from vegetative parts were more resistant than wild-type plants to pathogen infection of leaves, and showed reduced cell damage and higher seed production. Based on in vitro experiments, (E)-β-caryophyllene seems to act by direct inhibition of bacterial growth, rather than by triggering defense signaling pathways. (E)-β-Caryophyllene thus appears to serve as a defense against pathogens that invade floral tissues and, like other floral volatiles, may play multiple roles in defense and pollinator attraction.

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