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Burning vegetation produces cyanohydrins that liberate cyanide and stimulate seed germination

Flematti, G.R., Merritt, D.J., Piggott, M.J., Trengove, R.D., Smith, S.M., Dixon, K.W. and Ghisalberti, E.L. (2011) Burning vegetation produces cyanohydrins that liberate cyanide and stimulate seed germination. Nature Communications, 2 (1). Article No. 360.

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Cyanide is well known for its toxicity towards living organisms. Many plants use cyanide as a defensive agent against herbivores, releasing it through the enzymatic hydrolysis of endogenous cyanogenic compounds. At low concentrations, cyanide has been proposed to have a regulatory role in many plant processes including stimulation of seed germination. However, no ecological role for cyanide in seed germination has been established. In the present study, we show that burning plant material produces the cyanohydrin, glyceronitrile. We also show that, in the presence of water, glyceronitrile is slowly hydrolysed to release cyanide that stimulates seed germination of a diverse range of fire-responsive species from different continents. We propose that glyceronitrile serves as an ecological store for cyanide and is an important cue for stimulating seed germination and landscape regeneration after fires.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
Copyright: © 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.
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