Solanum nigrum: A model ecological expression system and its tools


Ian T. Baldwin. Fax: 03641 571102, E-mail:


Plants respond to environmental stresses through a series of complicated phenotypic responses, which can be understood only with field studies because other organisms must be recruited for their function. If ecologists are to fully participate in the genomics revolution and if molecular biologists are to understand adaptive phenotypic responses, native plant ecological expression systems that offer both molecular tools and interesting natural histories are needed. Here, we present Solanum nigrum L., a Solanaceous relative of potato and tomato for which many genomic tools are being developed, as a model plant ecological expression system. To facilitate manipulative ecological studies with S. nigrum, we describe: (i) an Agrobacterium-based transformation system and illustrate its utility with an example of the antisense expression of RuBPCase, as verified by Southern gel blot analysis and real-time quantitative PCR; (ii) a 789-oligonucleotide microarray and illustrate its utility with hybridizations of herbivore-elicited plants, and verify responses with RNA gel blot analysis and real-time quantitative PCR; (iii) analyses of secondary metabolites that function as direct (proteinase inhibitor activity) and indirect (herbivore-induced volatile organic compounds) defences; and (iv) growth and fitness-estimates for plants grown under field conditions. Using these tools, we demonstrate that attack from flea beetles elicits: (i) a large transcriptional change consistent with elicitation of both jasmonate and salicylate signalling; and (ii) increases in proteinase inhibitor transcripts and activity, and volatile organic compound release. Both flea beetle attack and jasmonate elicitation increased proteinase inhibitors and jasmonate elicitation decreased fitness in field-grown plants. Hence, proteinase inhibitors and jasmonate-signalling are targets for manipulative studies.