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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Airborne signals synchronize the defenses of neighboring plants in response to touch

Markovic, Dimitrije; Colzi, Ilaria; Taiti, Cosimo; Ray, Swayamjit; Scalone, Romain; Ali, Jared Gregory; Mancuso, Stefano; Ninkovic, Velemir


Plants activate defense-related pathways in response to subtle abiotic or biotic disturbances, changing their volatile profile rapidly. How such perturbations reach and potentially affect neighboring plants is less understood. We evaluated whether brief and light touching had a cascade effect on the profile of volatiles and gene expression of the focal plant and a neighboring untouched plant. Within minutes after contact, Zea mays showed an up-regulation of certain defense genes and increased the emission of specific volatiles that primed neighboring plants, making them less attractive for aphids. Exposure to volatiles from touched plants activated many of the same defense-related genes in non-touched neighboring plants, demonstrating a transcriptional mirroring effect for expression of genes up-regulated by brief contact. Perception of so-far-overlooked touch-induced volatile organic compounds was of ecological significance as these volatiles are directly involved in plant-plant communication as an effective trigger for rapid defense synchronization among nearby plants. Our findings shed new light on mechanisms of plant responses to mechanical contact at the molecular level and on the ecological role of induced volatiles as airborne signals in plant-plant interactions.


Gene expression; host plant acceptance; plant-plant communication; priming; Rhopalosiphum padi; terpenes; touch; volatile organic compounds; Zea mays

Published in

Journal of Experimental Botany
2019, volume: 70, number: 2, pages: 691-700

Authors' information

Markovic, Dimitrije
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Crop Production Ecology
Markovic, Dimitrije
University of Banja Luka (UNIBL)
Colzi, Ilaria
University of Florence
Taiti, Cosimo
University of Florence
Ray, Swayamjit
Pennsylvania State University
Scalone, Romain
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Crop Production Ecology
Ali, Jared Gregory
Pennsylvania State University
Mancuso, Stefano
University of Florence
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology

Associated SLU-program

SLU Network Plant Protection

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science

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