University of Cambridge > > Plant Sciences Research Seminars > Do Volatiles Emitted by Virus–Infected Tomato Plants Attract Bumblebees and Enhance Host Reproductive Fitness?

Do Volatiles Emitted by Virus–Infected Tomato Plants Attract Bumblebees and Enhance Host Reproductive Fitness?

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Optimum agricultural productivity that relies on the pollination services of bees is threatened by the recent decline in bee numbers and bee species diversity. For this reason, an increased understanding of the relationships between bees and plants is urgently needed. Viruses affect the interactions between plants and insect vectors by altering emission of plant volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We have shown that virus infection also affects interactions with beneficial insects. Previous work in the lab showed that tomato (Solanum esculentum) plants infected with Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) were more attractive to bumblebees than mock-inoculated tomato plants. It has been theorized that this may have impact on the evolution of plant resistance by encouraging pollen acquisition and dissemination from flowers of infected (i.e. susceptible genotype) plants. In Arabidopsis thaliana, infection with CMV did not make plants more attractive to the bees, but by using conditioning assays, we showed that the bees could perceive differences between the VOC profiles of plants infected by CMV and mock-inoculated plants. Furthermore, bees could also be trained in conditioning assays to recognize transgenic plants expressing the 2b protein (the RNA silencing suppressor of CMV ). Interestingly, bees found it more difficult to distinguish between A. thaliana plants infected with a CMV mutant lacking the gene for the 2b protein and mock-inoculated plants. This suggests that silencing pathways may be involved in regulation of the biochemical pathways responsible for bee-perceivable VOC production.

During my first year I have carried out four main activities. Two of these, characterization of a European isolate of CMV for use in greenhouse experiments, and the generation of transgenic tomato plants expressing marker genes and anti-CMV artificial microRNAs, are aimed at providing tools needed in Years 2 and 3 to further investigate the innate preference of bees for CMV -infected tomatoes and investigate the hypothesis that this innate preference of bees for CMV -infected plants makes them better pollen parents (a pay-back by the virus). The other two activities were: 1. the initial characterization of VOC profiles of tomato plants that were mock-inoculated, infected with CMV or infected with the CMV 2b deletion mutant (this last dataset being in progress), and 2. Further investigation of the role of the 2b protein in affecting bee-perceivable VOC emission in Arabidopsis.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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