Nav: Home

Insects hijack reproductive genes of grape vines to create own living space on plant

February 25, 2019

A team of scientists at The University of Toledo uncovered new, galling details in the intimate relationship between insects and plants, opening the door to new possibilities in protecting the source of wine and raisins worldwide from a major agricultural pest.

The biologists discovered grape phylloxera - the insect that nearly wiped out wine production at the end of the 19th century in France - hijacks a grape vine's reproductive programs to create a leaf gall, which it uses as a pseudo apartment for the parasite to siphon off the plant's nutrients. The research is published in the latest issue of Nature Scientific Reports.

A gall is an organ a little smaller than a marble on a plant that can look like a wart, flower or fruit and provides insects with a protected place to feed and reproduce.

"When galls form on a leaf, the flower genes are on. They shouldn't be activated, but the insect is manipulatively inserting its own signals into the pathway to get a flower-like result," said Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College at The University of Toledo and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences.

The insect lays an egg and starts the process to exploit the plant's reproductive genetic machinery, directing the plant to create these structures.

Appel and Dr. Jack Schultz, senior executive director for research development at The University of Toledo, said Charles Darwin guessed at the idea in 1867 when he observed that the gall bears a certain degree of resemblance to the inside of a peach when cut open.

"We examined Darwin's hypothesis and found the insect forces the plant to use the same genes to make a gall that the plant uses to make a flower or fruit," Schultz said. "The plant produces the central part of a flower known as the carpel in a place the plant would never produce one on its own."

"In each case as we genetically held up a mirror to see the differences in the plant at each stage of galling, an insect injected some kind of signal into the plant," Appel said. "The signal took over the plant's development and told the plant to make a gall on a leaf instead of normal plant tissue."

Galls damage grape vines by draining resources and getting in the way of photosynthesis, resulting in lower yields.

By identifying the genes in grape vines that have to be activated for an insect to produce a gall, scientists can next find a way to block the insect from attacking the plant.

"While North American grape vines have developed the ability to resist phylloxera, one option is to cross breed plants to be genetically resistant," Schultz said. "Another option is to create a biologically based pesticide to spray on grape vines to manipulate the hormones in plants to be active at different times."
-end-


University of Toledo

Related Wine Articles:

Wine descriptions make us more emotional about wine
Research by the University of Adelaide has shown that consumers are much more influenced by wine label descriptions than previously thought.
One step closer to finding out how wine may protect your neurons
Low to moderate intake of red wine can delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Wasps and wine: Paper wasps contribute to sour rot disease, a scourge of wine industry
New research led by Tufts University shows that the invasive European paper wasp, Polistes dominulus, plays a role in facilitating sour rot disease in the absence of other insects.
Corralling stink bugs could lead to better wine
To wine makers, stink bugs are more than a nuisance.
New research on wine fermentation could lead to better bouquet
The taste of wine arises from a symphony of compounds that are assembled as yeast ferment the must from grapes.
Science shows cheese can make wine taste better
A new scientific study shows that eating cheese may actually increase how much someone likes the wine they are drinking.
New research sheds light on how aged wine gets its aroma
Researchers have discovered an enzyme that plays a leading role in the formation of compounds that give aged wines their sought-after aroma.
Larger wine glasses may lead people to drink more
Selling wine in larger wine glasses may encourage people to drink more, even when the amount of wine remains the same, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge.
Another reason for wine lovers to toast resveratrol
Red wine lovers have a new reason to celebrate. Researchers have found a new health benefit of resveratrol, which occurs naturally in blueberries, raspberries, mulberries, grape skins and consequently in red wine.
The geology of wine
Every day, all around the world, millions of people contemplate a very simple question with a very complex answer: which wine?

Related Wine Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".