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

By
10:31am, August 5, 2015
Earthworm

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.

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