Early warning systems – metabolomics reveals pathogen attack!

It’s a war out there – at least, in the plant world. Plants are continually under attack from pathogens and pests and, being unable to move away, plants must be able to respond and fight their ground. This is usually done by making chemicals which repel, kill or slow down the growth of the invader. Researchers of Plant Research International use metabolomics to detect these compounds and analyse the defence mechanisms involved.

This has importance not only in helping us understand how plants protect themselves, but also the technologies used are finding wide application in many other areas of plant production. We are developing for application as early warning systems for growers.

Greenhouse monitoring

Plants attacked by insects release compounds which may have the effect of repelling the attacker or even, attract its enemies, such as parasitic wasps. Fungal spores and mycelium as well as pathogenic bacteria are also known to be killed by such compounds or have their growth retarded and reproduction impaired.

Many plants have developed a very sophisticated ’chemical arsenal’  to help them survive and consequently, we are using metabolomics to define this arsenal. But we are going one step further. If plants growing in a greenhouse are attacked and key metabolites are released for protection, being in an enclosed environment it may possible to detect these ‘signal molecules’ very early – even when only a few plants are attacked in a large commercial greenhouse. In the Gezonde kas (Healthy Greenhouse) project we are using metabolomics approaches to develop early warning systems (DiagNose) for growers to assist them in improving their sustainable disease and pest control strategies.