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You are hereUNIL > Department of Plant Molecular Biology > Research > Prof. Edward Farmer

Prof. Edward (Ted) Farmer

Defending captured carbon / protecting carbon capture | Our past activities

Defending captured carbon / protecting carbon capture

The approximately 600 gigatons of carbon in living terrestrial vegetation is potentially valuable food for animals, however, most living plant mass remains uneaten in nature. Our research aims to understand why this is and, specifically, how plants defend themselves. We discovered that a lipid-derived signal, jasmonate, controls antiherbivore defence responses and limits the activity of detritivores. The jasmonate pathway operates at a major nexus in the carbon cycle, limiting carbon flow from both living and dead plants to higher trophic levels. The range of plant organs that are available as food for humans and livestock is limited by the same mechanisms that protect plants from herbivores. Future agriculture will inevitably incorporate advances in jasmonate research.



Using genetic and electrophysiological approaches we investigate the genes and long-distance signal routes that operate to activate jasmonate synthesis in response to wounding.



A dogma is that nonenzymatic lipid oxidation is detrimental. We showed that fatty acid oxidation plays a protective role during photosynthesis where membrane lipids rich in PUFAs act as structural antioxidants (J. Biol. Chem. 284, 1702). After ROS damage, lipid-derived malondialdehyde (MDA) serves as an intermediate in a fatty acid repair cycle that rebuilds oxidation-sensitive lipids (J. Biol. Chem. 291, 13005), chiefly MDGD which is also the source of jasmonates (PNAS 94, 10473).


NEW: Click here below for a primer on long-distance wound signalling.


Our past activities

Main contributions in italic


Proposed (with C.A. Ryan) a central role of jasmonates in the plant immune system (PNAS 87, 7713; Plant Cell 4, 129).

We showed that the genetic architecture of the jasmonate pathway is different in roots and aerial tissues (PNAS 110, 15473). 

Identified cell-specific regulatory layers that prevent activation of the jasmonate pathway in healthy roots (PLoS Gen. 11(6) :e1005300).

Isolated the myc2-322B mutant that specifically amplifies jasmonate-controlled growth reponses (PLoS Gen.11(6) :e1005300).

Performed the first experiments to investigate the effects of a signal transduction pathway on the feeding behavior of a vertebrate herbivore (Mol. Ecol. 21, 2534-2541).

Co-discovered (in parallel with the goups of J. Browse and R. Solano) members of the 'JAZ' family of repressor proteins and shown that a natural transcript from JAS1/JAZ10 plays a role in wound-induced growth inhbition. Also descibed the 'Jas' motif as a functional element in this protein (Plant Cell 19, 2470).

Discovered a new jasmonate (dnOPDA) and revealed a novel 'hexadecanoid' branch of the jasmonate biosynthetic pathway (PNAS 94, 10473).

Showed that monogalactosyldiacylglyerol (MGDG) is the likely in vivo substrate for jasmonate synthesis (PNAS 94, 10473).

Showed that cyclopentenone jasmonates (OPDA & dnOPDA) can act as signals (PNAS 98, 12837).

Proposed an integrative model for ethylene, salicylate and jasmonate action (Curr. Opin Plant Biol. 1, 404).

Quantitated (using microarrays and statistical analysis) the number of chewing insect-inducible genes that are regulated throught the jasmonate signal pathway (an estimated 67-84%) (Plant Cell 16, 3132) and shown that a specialist and a generalist insect activate this pathway almost equally.

Showed that jasmonate signalling promotes the establishment of an oxidising environment near a wound (Plant Physiol. 156, 1797).

We proposed that endogenous jasmonate can move from cell to cell in plants (Plant Physiol. 98, 995) and later demonstrated this (Plant Physiol. 169, 2244).



In response to wounding, jasmonates can be made within and proximal to wounds and also in distal tissues. Jasmonate synthesis can be activated by long distance wound signals other than mobile jasmonates. The nature of these signals has long been a mystery.

Showed that leaf-to-leaf wound signals that activate jasmonate synthesis move at speeds in the cm/min range (J. Biol. Chem. 283, 16400).

Made the first constrained (minimum and maximum) velocity estimates for the speed of long distance wound signals that travel from leaf to leaf after wounding (J. Biol. Chem. 284, 34506).

We showed that these long distance wound signals move through well-defined parastichies (J. Biol. Chem. 284, 34506 ; New Phytol. 197, 566).

We found that the first burst of jasmonate made in leaves distal to wounds in Arabidopsis originates from the activity of LOX6, an enzyme localized to xylem contact cells (New Phytol. 197, 566).

Showed that clade 3 GLUTAMATE RECEPTOR-LIKE (GLR) proteins mediate electrical signalling in plants (Nature 500, 422).

Developed aphids as living electrodes and used them to characterize GLR-dependent electrical signals in phloem sieve tubes (New Phytol. 203, 674).

Identified fou2, a wound-mimic mutant containg a single missense mutation in the vacuolar voltage-gated cation channel TPC1 (Plant J. 49, 889 ; Plant Cell Physiol. 48, 1775).

Developed a framework model for how wound-induced axial pressure changes in the xylem may initiate jasmonate synthesis from LOX6 in contact cells (New Phytol. 204, 282).

Developed novel shoot to root wounding assays for Arabidopsis seedlings (PNAS 110, 15473 ; PLoS Gen. 11(6) : e1005300).



Tissues in which there is a high production of ROS (e.g. retina, neurons, thylakoids etc.) are particularly rich in oxidation-sensitive polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). At the subcellular level the membranes with the highest PUFA levels are often found where ROS are produced (e.g. mitochondria and chloroplasts).Why is this? Using genetic approaches we found that polyunsaturated fatty acids have roles as sinks for ROS. That is, membranes rich in these fatty acids can now be regarded as supramolecular antioxidants (J. Biol. Chem. 284, 1702; Ann. Rev. Plant Biol. 64, 429).

Showed that malondialdehyde (MDA) is an intermediate in a lipid repair cycle (J. Biol. Chem. 291, 13005).


Reactive Electrophile Species (RES)

Proposed that 'reactive electrophile species' (RES) could play roles in abiotic stress responses and in the 'abiotic component' of biotic attack in plants (Plant J. 24, 467; Nature 411, 854). 

Demonstrated powerful biological activity in the ubiquitous and highly studied lipid peroxidation marker malondialdehyde (MDA) (Plant J. 37, 877) and showed that linolenic acid is the major source of damaging reactive molecules produced by non-enzymatic oxidation in leaves (J. Biol. Chem. 202, 35749).

Developed a whole-body malondialdehyde mapping technique for the in situ visualization of MDA in complex organisms (J. Biol. Chem. 202, 35749) and discovered inducible pools of MDA in stem cell-rich tissues including the pericycle (J. Biol. Chem. 287, 8954-8962).

Proposed the ‘lipid stress hypothesis’ with M.J. Mueller (Ann. Rev. Plant Biol. 64, 429). Stress triggers fatty acid de-esterification from membranes. Oxidized fatty acids induce chaperones that might act as binding surfaces for the displaced fatty acids that could otherwise disrupt hydrophobic protein-protein interaction surfaces.


Biologically active cell wall fragments

Showed that biologically active pectic fragments (oligogalacturonides) are egg-box conformers where oligogalacturonides are bound to calcium ions (J. Biol. Chem. 266, 3140).


Remorin: a new family of proteins

Discovered the remorin group of plasma membrane proteins (PNAS 86, 1539; Plant Cell 8, 2265). 'Remorins may be associated with the cytoskeleton or membrane skeleton i.e., in superstructures that help determine cell integrity and/or act as scaffolds for signaling in defense or development' (Plant Mol. Biol. 55, 579).


Oxylipins control a major biological transition: from detritivory to herbivory

Evolution from detritivory (feeding on dead tissues) to herbivory (feeding on living plants) is one of the major transitions in biology. We starved isopod crustaceans (detritivores) and let them loose on Arabidopsis and rice mutants in jasmonate synthesis. The isopods started to feed on the living mutant plants but rarely damaged the WT. This shows that the absence of a signal pathway (the jasmonate pathway) in one organism causes a profound (transitional) effect on feeding in another (PNAS 106, 935).


Why do herbivores often cut round holes in leaves?

Now and again some of the things one finds changes the way one looks at nature. Herbivores often cut highly regular circles and semi-circles of leaf tissue. Birds often use the light coming through these holes to help them find caterpillars. In part the fact that insects often cut clean circles in leaves can be explained because it is simple and 'mechanically economic' (the insect doesn't have to move much) to do this. But there is more to the story : In carefully analysing microarray data we saw that some herbivores probably try to extract the maximum area of leaf tissue while leaving the minimal length of cut edge, so as to minimise stimulating plant defenses Plant Cell 12, 707). Perhaps insects understand calculus.


Missing phytoalexins from potato

Good candidates for low molecular mass antibiotics (phytoalexins) from the leaves of the historically and commercially important plant potato were unknown. They turned out to be relatively unstable molecules that had been described in vitro but that had previously escaped detection in living organisms. We identified divinyl ether fatty acids for the first time in nature in these leaves and proposed a role as antimicrobial compounds (Plant Cell 11, 485). They are the best candidates for the long-lost phytoalexins in potato leaves, the primary infection site for potato blight.


Community resources

Our laboratory has strongly supported the development of central, shared community resources in molecular biology and played a role in the establishment of the Lausanne DNA Array Facility.




Prof. Edward (Ted) Farmer

Leaf Defence

Leaf Defence cover-1.png


New in paperback

January 2016:

selected by 'Choice' as an outstanding academic title for 2015.

Biophore - CH-1015 Lausanne  - Switzerland  -  Tel. +41 21 692 41 90  -  Fax +41 21 692 41 95
Swiss University