Biotech Updates

Researchers Discover Molecular Basis of Odor Detection in Plants

January 30, 2019

Plants can smell, too, even without noses. This ability of plants to smell is in their genes and researchers have discovered the first steps of how information from odor molecules changes gene expression in plants. This discovery by researchers from the University of Tokyo led by Professor Kazushige Touhara, is the first to reveal the molecular basis of odor detection in plants and was more than 18 years in the making.

Plants detect odor molecules known as volatile organic compounds, which are essential for survival strategies, including attracting birds and bees, deterring pests, and reacting to disease in nearby plants. These compounds also give distinctive scents. The researchers exposed tobacco cells and 4-week-old tobacco plants to different volatile organic compounds. They discovered that odor molecules change gene expression by binding to other molecules called transcriptional co-repressors that can turn genes on or off.

Touhara hopes to apply their discoveries to influence crop quality or character without the complications of gene editing or pesticide use. He said that farmers could spray their fields with an odor associated with a desired plant behavior. For example, an odor that triggers to change the taste of their leaves to deter insects.

For more details, read the press release from The University of Tokyo.