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Plant Scents

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Human beings and insects detect scent...Click to Enlarge Image

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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