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Letters to Nature
Nature 385, 718 - 721 (20 February 1997); doi:10.1038/385718a0

Airborne signalling by methyl salicylate in plant pathogen resistance

Vladimir Shulaev, Paul Silverman* & Ilya Raskin

AgBiotech Center, Cook College, Rutgers University, PO Box 231, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-0231, USA
*Present address: Abbott Agricultural Research Center, Plant Science Department, Long Grove, Illinois 60067, USA.

Methyl salicylate, a volatile liquid, also known as oil of winter-green, is made by a number of plants1–9. Here we show that methyl salicylate is a major volatile compound produced by tobacco plants inoculated with tobacco mosaic virus. Methyl salicylate is synthesized from salicylic acid, a non-volatile chemical signal required for the establishment of acquired resistance10 and local and systemic induction of antimicrobial pathogenesis-related proteins11. Methyl salicylate acts by being converted back to salicyclic acid. We conclude that methyl salicylate may function as an airborne signal which acitvates disease resistance and the expression of defence-related genes in neighbouring plants and in the healthy tissues of the infected plant.

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