Plants’ ‘don’t-eat-me’ chemicals no problem for earthworms | Science News


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Plants’ ‘don’t-eat-me’ chemicals no problem for earthworms

Newly discovered gut compounds let the decomposers do what they do best with leaf litter

10:31am, August 5, 2015

SELF-DEFENSE  Using cross sections of earthworms, researchers discovered in the gut a group of compounds called drilodefensins that foil hazardous plant chemicals. The colored scale shows relative abundance of the drilodefensins in the worm.

For not-so-picky eaters, it’s best to have a tough tummy — take it from earthworms.

The wriggling soil dwellers tote chemicals in their guts to counteract hazardous ingredients in plant chow, researchers report online August 4 in Nature Communications. The finding explains how earthworms worldwide can stand to swallow the thousands of tons of plant debris that they churn into fertilizer each year.

“The worms do a great job of munching up all the organic matter,” says study coauthor Manuel Liebeke, a biochemist at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. But, he says, nobody had figured out how they handle harmful plant chemicals called polyphenols.

Plants use polyphenols to deter herbivores from feasting on them. The chemicals, which may taste unpleasant, can also shut down enzymes that critters use to digest and

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