Most plants on their surface have hairs named as Trichomes. In these trichomes is where plants synthesize and store or secrete a diverse set of specialized metabolites. Trichomes of some plants, especially within the Solanaceae, secrete beneficial sugars called acyl sugars that can account for up to 20% of the leaf dry weight. The role of acyl sugars in defense against insect herbivores and it had inspired several breeding programs aimed at increasing the levels of acyl sugars in the agronomically important crops tomato and potato. In addition to functioning in insect defense, acyl sugars also have commercial uses as food additives and in cosmetic products.
Until this week little was known about how acyl sugars were produced, but researchers from Michigan State University had identified and described the first gene that participates in the production of the protective sugars in cultivated tomatoes. The domestication of tomatoes led to crops to lose the beneficial traits common to wild tomatoes, because they were not bred for their acyl sugar amounts and quality. Domestic tomatoes have reduced levels compared to wild ones we do not eat. Therefore, the understanding how acyl sugars are made is the first step toward breeding cultivated tomatoes, and other plants in this family, to make them more resistant to herbivores.
If you are interested in this work see the news at Michigan State University or read the article at PNAS.
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