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Transfer of pyrrolizidine alkaloids between living plants: A disregarded source of contaminations

Selmar, Dirk, Wittke, Carina, Beck-von Wolffersdorff, Iris, Klier, Bernhard, Lewerenz, Laura, Kleinwächter, Maik, Nowak, Melanie
Environmental pollution 2019 v.248 pp. 456-461
Jacobaea vulgaris, Senecio, coculture, crop rotation, crops, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, roots, secondary metabolites, vegetables
To elucidate the origin of the wide-spread contaminations of plant derived commodities with various alkaloids, we employed co-cultures of pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) containing Senecio jacobaea plants with various alkaloid free acceptor plants. Our analyses revealed that all plants grown in the vicinity of the Senecio donor plants indeed contain significant amounts of the PAs, which previously had been synthesized in the Senecio plants. These findings illustrate that typical secondary metabolites, such as pyrrolizidine alkaloids, are commonly transferred and exchanged between living plants. In contrast to the broad spectrum of alkaloids in Senecio, in the acceptor plants nearly exclusively jacobine is accumulated. This indicates that this alkaloid is exuded specifically by the Senecio roots. Although the path of alkaloid transfer from living donor plants is not yet fully elucidated, these novel insights will extend and change our understanding of plant-plant interactions and reveal a high relevance with respect to the widespread alkaloidal contaminations of plant-derived commodities. Moreover, they could be the basis for the understanding of various so far not fully understood phenomena in cultivation of various crops, e.g. the beneficial effects of crop rotations or the co-cultivation of certain vegetables.