Herbivory in the previous generation primes plants for enhanced insect resistance

Sergio Rasmann, Martin De Vos, Clare L. Casteel, Donglan Tian, Rayko Halitschke, Joel Y. Sun, Anurag A. Agrawal, Gary W. Felton, Georg Jander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

353 Scopus citations


Inducible defenses, which provide enhanced resistance after initial attack, are nearly universal in plants. This defense signaling cascade is mediated by the synthesis, movement, and perception of jasmonic acid and related plant metabolites. To characterize the long-term persistence of plant immunity, we challenged Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) with caterpillar herbivory, application of methyl jasmonate, or mechanical damage during vegetative growth and assessed plant resistance in subsequent generations. Here, we show that induced resistance was associated with transgenerational priming of jasmonic acid-dependent defense responses in both species, caused caterpillars to grow up to 50% smaller than on control plants, and persisted for two generations in Arabidopsis. Arabidopsis mutants that are deficient in jasmonate perception (coronatine insensitive1) or in the biogenesis of small interfering RNA (dicer-like2 dicer-like3 dicer-like4 and nuclear RNA polymerase d2a nuclear RNA polymerase d2b) do not exhibit inherited resistance. The observation of inherited resistance in both the Brassicaceae and Solanaceae suggests that this trait may be more widely distributed in plants. Epigenetic resistance to herbivory thus represents a phenotypically plastic mechanism for enhanced defense across generations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)854-863
Number of pages10
JournalPlant physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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