Interplant communication: airborne methyl jasmonate induces synthesis of proteinase inhibitors in plant leaves.
Inducible defensive responses in plants are known to be activated locally and systemically by signaling molecules that are produced at sites of pathogen or insect attacks, but only one chemical signal, ethylene, is known to travel through the atmosphere to activate plant defensive genes. Methyl jasmonate, a common plant secondary compound, when applied to surfaces of tomato plants, induces the synthesis of defensive proteinase inhibitor proteins in the treated plants and in nearby plants as well. The presence of methyl jasmonate in the atmosphere of chambers containing plants from three species of two families, Solanaceae and Fabaceae, results in the accumulation of proteinase inhibitors in leaves of all three species. When sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata, a plant shown to possess methyl jasmonate in leaf surface structures, is incubated in chambers with tomato plants, proteinase inhibitor accumulation is induced in the tomato leaves, demonstrating that interplant communication can occur from leaves of one species of plant to leaves of another species to activate the expression of defensive genes.