Priming Seeds with Indole and (Z)-3-Hexenyl Acetate Enhances Resistance Against Herbivores and Stimulates Growth

Abhinav K. Maurya, Leila Pazouki, Christopher J. Frost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


A striking feature of plant ecology is the ability of plants to detect and respond to environmental cues such as herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) by priming or directly activating defenses against future herbivores. However, whether seeds also respond to compounds that are common constituents of HIPV blends and initiate future plant resistance is unknown. Considering that seeds depend on other environmental cues to determine basic survival traits such as germination timing, we predicted that seeds exposed to synthetic constituents of HIPV blends would generate well-defended plants. We investigated the effect of seed exposure to common volatiles on growth, reproduction, and resistance characteristics in the model plants Arabidopsis thaliana and Medicago truncatula using herbivores from two feeding guilds. After seed scarification and vernalization, we treated seeds with one of seven different plant-derived volatile compounds for 24 h. Seeds were then germinated and the resulting plants were assayed for growth, herbivore resistance, and expression of inducible defense genes. Of all the synthetic volatiles tested, indole specifically reduced both beet armyworm growth on A. thaliana and pea aphid fecundity on M. truncatula. The induction of defense genes was not affected by seed exposure to indole in either plant species, indicating that activation of direct resistance rather than inducible resistance is the mechanism by which seed priming operates. Moreover, neither plant species showed any negative effect of seed exposure to any synthetic volatile on vegetative and reproductive growth. Rather, M. truncatula plants derived from seeds exposed to (Z)-3-hexanol and (Z)-3-hexenyl acetate grew larger compared to controls. Our results indicate that seeds are sensitive to specific volatiles in ways that enhance resistance profiles with no apparent costs in terms of growth. Seed priming by HIPVs may represent a novel ecological mechanism of plant-to-plant interactions, with broad potential applications in agriculture and seed conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-454
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Aphid
  • Beet armyworm
  • Herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs)
  • Indole
  • Plant communication
  • Plant defense
  • Plant growth
  • Plant volatiles
  • Seed priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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