Fighting plant diseases with the smell of freshly mown grass

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Bioengineers at Ghent University have managed to protect wheat and rice from diseases by using substances made by plants themselves that spread the scent of freshly mown grass.

Freshly mown grass spreads a specific smell, which comes from substances that a plant makes when it is attacked, for example by an insect, a fungus or a lawn mower.
Plants make these substances to communicate: by spreading them, they let neighboring plants know that there is a risk of danger.

Vaccination for plants

Researchers at the Faculty of Bio-Engineering (UGent) have discovered that these substances can also be used to increase plant resistance. “You could consider it as a kind of biological vaccination of a plant,” says Maarten Ameye, who worked for four years on this doctoral research.

Greener crop protection

The bioengineer examined whether the substances – so-called green leaf volatiles – have a protective effect on wheat and rice, two of the main agricultural crops.

“We found that wheat and rice had a higher resistance to a number of diseases and fungi after we had exposed them to green leaf volatiles,” says Ameye. “By applying these substances to plants, we take another step towards a more innovative and sustainable way of protecting crops, and for a greener agriculture in general,” Ameye concludes.