Moss makes metabolites associated with fungi and animals

German researchers report that the moss Physcomitrella patens synthesises metabolites generally associated with phyla such as animals and fungi. Thus, chemical mimicry could underlie the resilience of moss to grazing animals and pathogenic fungi.

Georg Pohnert’s team at the Max Planck institute for chemical ecology at Jena, along with researchers at the University of G?ttingen have investigated the lipoxygenase (LOX) pathways that are responsible for the synthesis of chemical signals and defenses in many higher organisms. The pathway involves oxidation and cleavage of a long-chain, polyunsaturated lipid, resulting in short, oxygen-containing metabolites such as plant oxylipins.

’Feeding’ the presumed LOX pathway of P. patens with lipid precursors, the researchers found the moss has no use for the known precursors from higher plant or fungi, but produces its oxylipins from arachidonic acid instead. But the end products of the reaction, which the moss releases in response to tissue damage, are familiar. They include (E)-non-2-enal (found in higher plants and smelling of cucumber) and (R)-1-octen-3-ol (which smells of mushrooms), along with the products of further reactions based on these compounds.

The moss uses different chemical pathways to arrive at the known LOX products of other species, suggesting that chemical mimicry may be at work.

Michael Gross