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Plants can “sniff” predators and defend themselves

Scientist at Freie Universität receives award from German Botanical Society for best publication in plant science

№ 083/2020 from May 22, 2020

Dr. Norbert Bittner from Freie Universität Berlin is the recipient of this year's award from the Wilhelm Pfeffer Foundation for the best publication in plant science. As the Executive Board of the Foundation of the German Botanic Society noted, Norbert Bittner was the first to show how forest pines successfully defend themselves against egg laying in the run-up to an insect attack by pine bushhorn leaf wasps. The findings of Norbert Bittner together with researchers at Freie Universität Berlin led by Professor Dr. Monika Hilker and universities in Barcelona (Spain) and Lund (Sweden) were published in PNAS. The award from the German Botanical Society comes with a monetary value of 1000 euros.

In the article Norbert Bittner describes how plants can already perceive the insect pest when the female leaf wasps emit a sex pheromone to attract males to mate, i.e., before they lay their eggs from which ravenous larvae later hatch. Pine trees exposed to the wasp's sex attractant strengthened their molecular and chemical defense strategy. Plants “warned” by pheromones were able to kill insect eggs more effectively and thus protect themselves before feeding damage from the larvae could begin.

Norbert Bittner does research in the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 973 “Priming and Memory of Organismic Responses to Stress” in the lab headed by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Kunze.


Dr. Norbert Bittner, Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, Email: norbert.bittner@fu-berlin.de