Home   »   Green leaf volatiles (GLVs)

Green leaf volatiles (GLVs), How They Warn Each Other of Danger

Plants, often perceived as silent and stationary beings, have long been underestimated in their ability to communicate. However, recent scientific breakthroughs have revealed a fascinating aspect of their existence: the ability to warn each other of danger. This phenomenon involves the release of compounds, known as green leaf volatiles (GLVs), into the air when a plant is injured. While humans might find the resulting aroma pleasant, it serves as a warning signal to nearby plants that danger is imminent.

Green leaf volatiles (GLVs)

Green leaf volatiles (GLVs) are a group of organic compounds that are released by plants, particularly when they are under stress or facing damage.

These compounds play a role in various plant signaling processes, such as defense mechanisms against herbivores and responses to environmental changes.

GLVs are a diverse class of chemicals that include compounds like hexenyl acetate, hexenol, and others.

Genesis of GLVs

  • When a plant experiences injury, whether due to physical damage or insect predation, it initiates a complex biochemical process. As a byproduct of this process, GLVs are emitted into the air.
  • These volatile compounds consist of diverse organic molecules, each contributing to the distinct scent accompanying plant distress.

The Scented Symphony of Distress

  • GLVs are, in essence, the aromatic language of plants. The unique blend of compounds released forms a fragrant symphony that communicates distress signals to nearby vegetation.
  • While imperceptible to the human nose, this olfactory exchange is a crucial component of plant survival strategies.

Eavesdropping on Plant Conversations

Scientists have long suspected that plants possess the ability to “eavesdrop” on the distress signals of their neighboring counterparts.

GLVs act as the messengers in this chemical conversation, conveying information about potential threats.

This eavesdropping phenomenon allows plants to preemptively activate defense mechanisms, preparing for imminent danger.

Implications of Agriculture

  • Beyond the realm of scientific curiosity, the study of GLVs holds practical significance, particularly in agriculture. Understanding how plants communicate distress can inform strategies for pest management.
  • By tapping into the natural signaling mechanisms of plants, scientists envision developing eco-friendly approaches to protect crops without resorting to harmful pesticides.

GLVs as a Defense Arsenal

  • GLVs not only serve as messengers but also activate internal defense responses within plants. These responses can include making the plant less palatable to herbivores or attracting predators of the pests.
  • The multifaceted role of GLVs in plant defense highlights their potential as a sustainable and environmentally friendly tool in agriculture.

Challenges and Future Directions

While the study of GLVs has illuminated a previously hidden aspect of plant life, challenges remain. Understanding the full complexity of plant communication, especially in natural settings, poses difficulties. The dilution of volatile compounds in the air and the nuanced interplay of different molecules add layers of complexity to this botanical language.

Eavesdropping on Nature’s Conversation

Scientists have known for some time that plants can eavesdrop on the distress signals of neighboring plants. This unique form of communication enables a plant to take defensive measures against potential threats.

The implications of this natural signaling system are profound, with potential applications in agriculture for pest management without resorting to pesticides.

Dr. Masatsugu Toyota’s Groundbreaking Study

  • Masatsugu Toyota, a professor at Saitama University, has played a pivotal role in advancing our understanding of plant communication. Through innovative microscopy techniques, he successfully visualized plants responding to warning signals for the first time.
  • His study, published in Nature Communications, sheds light on the intricate mechanisms underlying plant defense and opens new avenues for crop protection without relying on harmful chemicals.

Plant Defense Mechanisms

  • Plants deploy two major defense mechanisms triggered by molecular reactions when they suffer damage. GLVs are released as by-products during this process, serving as a sort of danger signal.
  • Toyota’s research involved genetically modifying mustard plants to glow when flooded with calcium ions, a common mediator of chemical and electrical signals in biology.
  • This allowed the observation of plant responses to various forms of damage, including touch, cutting, and insect attacks.

Calcium Connection

Illuminating plant responses

  • Under the microscope, Dr. Toyota’s mutant mustard plant lit up in response to GLVs, indicating its ability to eavesdrop on the distress signals emitted by other plants.
  • This breakthrough offers a visual representation of how plants perceive and respond to volatile components released during damage.
  • The study’s significance lies not only in the observation of these responses but also in the potential applications for pest management in agriculture.

Gene-Level Markers for Defense: A Closer Look

  • Yuri Aratani, a student of Dr. Toyota, conducted experiments exposing the mutant mustard plant to air-laden with GLVs. The plant exhibited increased expression of the Jaz-7 and OPR-3 genes, considered classic markers for defense.
  • This suggests that the plant not only sensed the GLVs but also initiated molecular responses indicative of self-protection. However, the question of whether plants specifically perceive GLVs as danger signals remains a topic of ongoing investigation.

Intersection of Biology and Agriculture

  • The findings of Dr. Toyota’s study resonate with the work of scientists like Abdul Rashid War, who have explored how plants defend themselves against pests.
  • GLVs, as revealed in this research, activate internal defense responses in plants. Some of these volatile compounds repel insects, while others attract predators of the pests.
  • This opens up possibilities for developing eco-friendly strategies to mitigate pest damage to crops, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional pesticide use.

Challenges and Future Directions

  • While the study provides valuable insights, challenges remain in understanding the broader implications of volatile signaling between plants in natural settings.
  • Compounds like GLVs can get diluted in the air, making it challenging to replicate real-world conditions in controlled experiments.
  • Scientists like Edward Farmer emphasize the need for more evidence before conclusively establishing the significance of plant communication in a natural context.

Looking Ahead

The Unexplored Realms of Plant Sensing

  • As we delve deeper into the world of plant communication, questions arise about the extent of their sensory abilities. Dr. Gilroy, optimistic about the future, sees these discoveries as an exploration of the edges of a vast network of plant sensing.
  • The ability of plants to obtain information about their environment and respond in meaningful ways challenges our understanding of intelligence in the biological world.


In conclusion, the revelation of plants warning each other of danger through volatile signaling opens up a new chapter in our understanding of the intricate relationships within the natural world.

Dr. Toyota’s pioneering study provides a visual narrative of the age-old conversation among plants, highlighting their capacity to perceive and respond to environmental cues.

As we unlock the secrets of plant communication, the potential for sustainable agriculture practices and eco-friendly pest management beckons, promising a future where the silent language of plants becomes a cornerstone of ecological harmony.

Sharing is caring!


What are Green Leaf Volatiles (GLVs), and why are they significant in plant communication?

GLVs are organic compounds released by plants, particularly when they are stressed or injured. They play a crucial role in plant signaling processes, serving as a form of communication, especially in defense mechanisms against herbivores and responses to environmental changes.

How do plants communicate using GLVs?

When a plant experiences injury, it releases GLVs into the air. These compounds form a unique blend of scents that act as an aromatic language, conveying distress signals to nearby plants. This chemical communication allows plants to preemptively activate defense mechanisms.

Why is the study of GLVs important in agriculture?

Understanding how plants use GLVs to communicate distress has practical implications in agriculture. It can inform strategies for eco-friendly pest management, providing alternatives to traditional pesticides by tapping into the natural signaling mechanisms of plants.

About the Author

Hey there! I'm Nikesh, a content writer at Adda247. I specialize in creating informative content focused on UPSC and State PSC exams. Join me as we unravel the complexities of these exams and turn aspirations into achievements together!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *