Main content area

Role of cyanogenic glycosides in the seeds of wild lima bean, Phaseolus lunatus: defense, plant nutrition or both?

Cuny, Maximilien A. C., La Forgia, Diana, Desurmont, Gaylord A., Glauser, Gaetan, Benrey, Betty
Planta 2019 v.250 no.4 pp. 1281-1292
Phaseolus lunatus, Spodoptera littoralis, cotyledons, cyanogenic glycosides, herbivores, leaves, lima beans, nitrogen, plant nutrition, secondary metabolites, seed germination, seedling growth, seedlings, wild relatives
MAIN CONCLUSION: Cyanogenic glycosides present in the seeds of wild lima bean plants are associated with seedling defense but do not affect seed germination and seedling growth. Wild lima bean plants contain cyanogenic glycosides (CNGs) that are known to defend the plant against leaf herbivores. However, seed feeders appear to be unaffected despite the high levels of CNGs in the seeds. We investigated a possible role of CNGs in seeds as nitrogen storage compounds that influence plant growth, as well as seedling resistance to herbivores. Using seeds from four different wild lima bean natural populations that are known to vary in CNG levels, we tested two non-mutually exclusive hypotheses: (1) seeds with higher levels of CNGs produce seedlings that are more resistant against generalist herbivores and, (2) seeds with higher levels of CNGs germinate faster and produce plants that exhibit better growth. Levels of CNGs in the seeds were negatively correlated with germination rates and not correlated with seedling growth. However, levels of CNGs increased significantly soon after germination and seeds with the highest CNG levels produced seedlings with higher CNG levels in cotyledons. Moreover, the growth rate of the generalist herbivore Spodoptera littoralis was lower in cotyledons with high-CNG levels. We conclude that CNGs in lima bean seeds do not play a role in seed germination and seedling growth, but are associated with seedling defense. Our results provide insight into the potential dual function of plant secondary metabolites as defense compounds and storage molecules for growth and development.