Scientists: Tomato plants have special defenses and communications that reveal evolutionary secrets!

Tomatoes’ crystal ball reveals evolutionary secrets
September 12, 2017 by Layne Cameron , Robert Last

For this study, he focused on a single type of molecule in trichomes – acylsugars. The secrets Last and a team of MSU scientists found from studying these specialized metabolites open an evolutionary window for the emerging field of plant defense metabolism, insights that could lead to engineering advances for better pest resistance and human medicine.

Plants use metabolite molecules to grow, communicate with each other or to defend themselves against pests and disease. Thousands of core metabolites are found in every plant, but hundreds of thousands are more specialized and found only in specific groups of plants.

Acylsugars are an example of a group of specialized metabolites found only in the Solanaceae family, which includes tomato and petunia plants. These specialized metabolites have a wide variety of structures and are made by different enzymes working together to carry out a series of biochemical reactions.

“We sought to understand how this novel pathway originated and diversified across 100 million years of plant evolution,” said Last, MSU Barnett Rosenberg Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Plant Biology and the study’s senior author. “This is our crystal ball, our view into evolution.”

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Have you ever noticed the little hairs on tomato plants?

Some varieties look downright fuzzy and others have just a few sparse hairs. There has been much study about why a tomato plant has hair, and we now understand that these fuzzy strands that look like hair have a very important role for the tomato plant.

Tomato plant hairs are actually called trichomes.

Your tomato plants are covered in trichomes. Some are long making your tomatoes look fuzzy. In the photo below, you can see the glossy strands of the long trichomes poking out all around the stem. But there are also super tiny ones that look more like little bubbles covering the surface of the tomato plant. Those bubbles are actually perched right on top of super tiny trichomes.

These tiny trichomes secrete essential oils which give tomato plants their wonderful scent.

It is precisely that scent that aims to repel some pests. The tomato plant can react to times of stress by altering the compounds within its trichomes to attempt to deter critters that may want to chomp on it.


h/t Digital mix guy