For a caterpillar, a green leaf can make a nice meal. But to the plant itself, it’s an attack. And very hungry caterpillars can do a lot of damage as they eat their way through life.
Plants can fight back, unleashing an array of chemical defenses to discourage wayward foragers — from releasing chemicals that attract caterpillar predators to secreting compounds that make the plant taste so foul that desperate caterpillars resort to cannibalism. But scientists know little about how plants detect these attacks and marshal defenses.
In a paper published Nov. 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by scientists at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego reports that cowpeas — a type of bean plant — harbor receptors on the surface of their cells that can detect a compound in caterpillar