Many plant species contain chemical defenses that protect them against herbivores. Despite the benefit of these chemical defenses, not all individuals contain high levels of these compounds. In the native tobacco Nicotiana attenuata we found that plants from three natural populations differed considerably in their ability to produce trypsin protease inhibitors (PIs), which are defensive proteins that reduce herbivore damage to plants. Plants from a Utah (U) population produced high levels, whereas plants from Arizona (A) contained no detectable PI levels. Californian (C) plants had intermediate levels. The PI-producing U and C plants thus differ quantitatively from each other, whereas they both differ qualitatively from PI-deficient A plants. Here we analyze how PI production is inherited in N. attenuata with the ultimate goal of better understanding how the quantitative and qualitative differences between the three populations have evolved. Using a series of classical crossing designs, we determined that the ability to produce PIs is inherited as a dominant Mendelian trait. PI-deficient plants contain two non-functional recessive alleles, whereas heterozygous plants or homozygous dominant plants both are able to produce PIs. Similarly, the level of constitutive PIs may be determined by its genotype, either by an interaction between a functional and a non-functional allele in heterozygotes, or by a factor on the PI allele itself in homozygous C plants. Based on these data and on previous studies with A and U plants we postulate that the PI-deficient A plants may have originated from a mutant that lost its ability to produce PIs. The fitness loss due to reduced herbivore resistance may be offset by the fitness gain associated with increased competitive ability, a trade-off which may maintain this mutation in the Arizona population. [KEYWORDS: Defense polymorphism - diallel cross - functional allele - heritability - Mendelian trait - natural selection]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-185
JournalPlant Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003

ID: 137035