Biology of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Plants synthesize and emit a large variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with terpenes and fatty-acid derivatives as the dominant classes with multiple biological and ecological functions. However, it is difficult to demonstrate defensive functions for these substances in field or laboratory experiments simulating different climate conditions. How and to which extent these actions are exerted and influenced by the abiotic environment is therefore largely unknown. Our research provides evidence on how and to which extent biogenic VOCs are involved in plant protection and adaptation and how multiple environmental constraints affect plant behaviour and biotic interactions (pathogens and herbivores). By elucidating general mechanisms by which VOCs act, our research will enable the use of these compounds as valuable tools for improving plant performance in unfavourable environments (phenotyping) and for defending plants against pathogens and herbivores attack. This will yield important knowledge on natural mechanisms of plant protection, and will therefore provide information necessary to manipulate and regulate these protective compounds with ecological and molecular tools (including GMOs) helping to diminish the use of synthetic chemical products to defend plants against pathogens and pests, thus allowing environmentally friendly plant cultivation.