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Plants produce thousands of chemical compounds, some of which
evaporate easily in the atmosphere. These scents, ranging from the
sensual perfume of roses to the pungent bite of cloves, have always
been important in culture, as food preservatives, medicines and
luxuries. But what does the plant use them for in the first place?
The author describes a world in which plants and insects execute
elaborate, and often mortal, dances. In these contests, plants
employ toxins that discourage browsing and egg-laying, subvert sex
pheromones to lure pollinators, combat herbivorous insects by
attracting parasitic predators and even maintain standing armies of
insect "enforcers." Using the tools of genomics and
organic chemistry, recent experiments have illuminated the synthesis
pathways of several volatile chemicals.
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