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Tomato Plants Treated with Systemin Peptide Show Enhanced Levels of Direct and Indirect Defense Associated with Increased Expression of Defense-Related Genes

Coppola, Mariangela, Lelio, Ilaria Di, Romanelli, Alessandra, Gualtieri, Liberata, Molisso, Donata, Ruocco, Michelina, Avitabile, Concetta, Natale, Roberto, Cascone, Pasquale, Guerrieri, Emilio, Pennacchio, Francesco, Rao, Rosa
Plants 2019 v.8 no.10
Aphidoidea, Botrytis cinerea, Solanum lycopersicum, Spodoptera littoralis, antagonists, bioassays, defense mechanisms, gene expression, herbivores, hydroponics, insect larvae, larval development, leaves, moths, nontarget organisms, pathogenesis-related proteins, peptides, pests, plant pathogenic fungi, plant protection, tomatoes
Plant defense peptides represent an important class of compounds active against pathogens and insects. These molecules controlling immune barriers can potentially be used as novel tools for plant protection, which mimic natural defense mechanisms against invaders. The constitutive expression in tomato plants of the precursor of the defense peptide systemin was previously demonstrated to increase tolerance against moth larvae and aphids and to hamper the colonization by phytopathogenic fungi, through the expression of a wealth of defense-related genes. In this work we studied the impact of the exogenous supply of systemin to tomato plants on pests to evaluate the use of the peptide as a tool for crop protection in non-transgenic approaches. By combining gene expression studies and bioassays with different pests we demonstrate that the exogenous supply of systemin to tomato plants enhances both direct and indirect defense barriers. Experimental plants, exposed to this peptide by foliar spotting or root uptake through hydroponic culture, impaired larval growth and development of the noctuid moth Spodoptera littoralis, even across generations, reduced the leaf colonization by the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea and were more attractive towards natural herbivore antagonists. The induction of these defense responses was found to be associated with molecular and biochemical changes under control of the systemin signalling cascade. Our results indicate that the direct delivery of systemin, likely characterized by a null effect on non-target organisms, represents an interesting tool for the sustainable protection of tomato plants.