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Role of cyanogenic glycosides in the seeds of wild lima bean, Phaseolus lunatus: defense, plant nutrition or both?

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Cuny Maximilien A. C., La Forgia Diana, Desurmont Gaylord A., Glauser Gaetan, Benrey Betty,
Project Agricultural practices and the cascading effects of apparent competition: A case study of trophic interactions on cultivated maize and wild lima bean plants.
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Planta
Volume (Issue) 250(4)
Page(s) 1281 - 1292
Title of proceedings Planta
DOI 10.1007/s00425-019-03221-3


Wild lima bean plants contain cyanogenic glycosides (CNGs) that are known to defend the plant against leaf herbivores. However, seed feeders appear to be unaffected despite the high levels of CNGs in the seeds. We investigated a possible role of CNGs in seeds as nitrogen storage compounds that influence plant growth, as well as seedling resistance to herbivores. Using seeds from four different wild lima bean natural populations that are known to vary in CNG levels, we tested two non-mutually exclusive hypotheses: (1) seeds with higher levels of CNGs produce seedlings that are more resistant against generalist herbivores and, (2) seeds with higher levels of CNGs germinate faster and produce plants that exhibit bet- ter growth. Levels of CNGs in the seeds were negatively correlated with germination rates and not correlated with seedling growth. However, levels of CNGs increased significantly soon after germination and seeds with the highest CNG levels produced seedlings with higher CNG levels in cotyledons. Moreover, the growth rate of the generalist herbivore Spodoptera littoralis was lower in cotyledons with high-CNG levels. We conclude that CNGs in lima bean seeds do not play a role in seed germination and seedling growth, but are associated with seedling defense. Our results provide insight into the potential dual function of plant secondary metabolites as defense compounds and storage molecules for growth and development.