An aeroponic culture system for the study of root herbivory on Arabidopsis thaliana
Background Plant defense against herbivory has been studied primarily in aerial tissues. However, complex defense mechanisms have evolved in all parts of the plant to combat herbivore attack and these mechanisms are likely to differ in the aerial and subterranean environment. Research investigating defense responses belowground has been hindered by experimental difficulties associated with the accessibility and quality of root tissue and the lack of bioassays using model plants with altered defense profiles. Results We have developed an aeroponic culture system based on a calcined clay substrate that allows insect herbivores to feed on plant roots while providing easy recovery of the root tissue. The culture method was validated by a root-herbivore system developed for Arabidopsis thaliana and the herbivore Bradysia spp. (fungus gnat). Arabidopsis root mass obtained from aeroponically grown plants was comparable to that from other culture systems, and the plants were morphologically normal. Bradysia larvae caused considerable root damage resulting in reduced root biomass and water absorption. After feeding on the aeroponically grown root tissue, the larvae pupated and emerged as adults. Root damage of mature plants cultivated in aeroponic substrate was compared to that of Arabidopsis seedlings grown in potting mix. Seedlings were notably more susceptible to Bradysia feeding than mature plants and showed decreased overall growth and survival rates. Conclusions A root-herbivore system consisting of Arabidopsis thaliana and larvae of the opportunistic herbivore Bradysia spp. has been established that mimics herbivory in the rhizosphere. Bradysia infestation of Arabidopsis grown in this culture system significantly affects plant performance. The culture method will allow simple profiling and in vivo functional analysis of root defenses such as chemical defense metabolites that are released in response to belowground insect attack.