Plant biology: Neuchâtel on the front page of a scientific journal

News of the 30 June 2011

A study by scientists from the Institute of Biology at the University of Neuchâtel dealing with links between different maize defence mechanisms against pests made the cover page of the journal Plant, Cell and Environment (PCE). The full page picture of the July issue has been taken by Matthias Held, deputy coordinator of the National Centre of Competences in Research (NCCR) Plant Survival, a scientific network spearheaded by the University of Neuchâtel. It refers to a study carried out by Matthias Erb and colleagues.
Understanding the defence mechanisms used by maize against pathogens and herbivorous insects is an important research aim of the NCCR Plant Survival. For the scientific article that made PCE’s front page, Matthias Erb and his colleagues of the Fundamental and Applied Research in Chemical Ecology (FARCE) laboratory, under the supervision of Ted Turlings, collaborated with the group of Brigitte Mauch-Mani, a phytopathologist in the laboratory of cell and molecular biology.
The two teams demonstrated that plants that possess a strong line of defence against insects by producing toxic substances are also very efficient at using indirect defences during an attack by releasing odours that attract the enemies of the insects. This discovery of a positive correlation between these different types of defence is the first of its kind in the field of plant-insect interactions. However, the study also revealed a negative correlation: maize lines that showed strong resistance against insects were poorly defended against a pathogen and vice versa.  
To obtain these results, the researchers investigated 20 genetically different maize lines that were supplied by a seed company from Fribourg, DSP-Delley Semences et Plantes. The project required a major effort of coordination on the part of Matthias Erb in order to bring together experts in plant chemistry, entomology, ecology and plant pathology.

More infos

The picture shows a Spodoptera caterpillar devouring a maize leaf

(c) Matthias Held, University of Neuchâtel