Niflaos HaBorei: Sweet Potato Sends Secret Signals


When nibbled, the leaves of one type of sweet potato release a strong-smelling chemical warning that prompts other leaves—on the same plant and those nearby—to produce defensive proteins that make them hard to digest, new research suggests.

Axel Mithöfer, a plant ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, and co-author of the study explains that while many plants have chemical warning systems that prompt neighbors to prepare for attack, individual leaves often wait to manufacture defensive compounds until bitten themselves. But this plant’s leaves produce the compound immediately when neighbors are bitten, he says.

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