Title page for ETD etd-05272010-100309

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Vaughan, Martha Marie
URN etd-05272010-100309
Title Molecular and Functional Characterization of Terpene Chemical Defense in Arabidopsis Roots in Interaction with the Herbivore Bradysia spp. (fungus gnat)
Degree PhD
Department Biology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jelesko, John G. Committee Member
Salom, Scott M. Committee Member
Sible, Jill C. Committee Member
Tholl, Dorothea B. C. Committee Member
Winkel, Brenda S. J. Committee Member
  • terpene synthase
  • root defense
  • diterpene
  • root herbivory
  • secondary metabolism
Date of Defense 2010-05-13
Availability unrestricted
Roots and leaves are integrated structural elements that together sustain plant growth and development. Insect herbivores pose a constant threat to both above- and belowground plant tissues. To ward off herbivorous insects, plants have developed different strategies such as direct and indirect chemical defense mechanisms. Research has primarily focused on visible aboveground interactions between plants and herbivores. Root-feeding insects, although often overlooked, play a major role in inducing physical and physiological changes in plants. However, little is known about how plants deploy chemical defense against root herbivores.

We have developed an Arabidopsis aeroponic culture system based on clay granulate, which provides access to root tissue and accommodates subterranean insect herbivores. Using this system, feeding performance and plant tissue damage by the root herbivore Bradysia (fungus gnat) were evaluated. Larval feeding was found to reduce Arabidopsis root biomass and water uptake.

Furthermore, we have characterized a root-specific terpene synthase AtTPS08, which is responsible for the constitutive formation of the novel volatile diterpene compound, rhizathalene, in Arabidopsis roots. Rhizathalene synthase is a class I diterpene synthase that has high affinity for the substrate geranylgeranyl diphosphate (GGPP) and is targeted to the root leucoplast. Expression of the β-glucuronidase (GUS) reporter gene fused to the upstream genomic region of AtTPS08 demonstrated constitutive promoter activity in the root vascular tissue and root tips. Using the established bioassay with Arabidopsis and Bradysia larvae, in aeroponic culture we could show that roots deficient in rhizathalene synthesis were more susceptible to herbivory. Our work provides in vivo-evidence that diterpene compounds are involved in belowground direct defense against root-feeding insects.

Future work is still required to improve our understanding of plant root defense. This study has provided a basis for future investigations on the biochemistry, molecular regulation and defensive function of Arabidopsis root chemicals in interaction with both above- and belowground herbivores (and pathogens).

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