Insect and disease attraction to plants with reducing sugars

How is it possible for a high Brix plant to be resistant to insects and not provide them with an abundant food source when insects are attracted to sugars? The key insight is that plants contain different concentrations of different carbohydrates at various levels of plant health. The goal for optimal plant health is to have all photosynthates and soluble sugars such as glucose and fructose converted to non-reducing sugars in each 24-hour photoperiod. This means a healthy plant will have a high Brix concentration and very low levels of reducing sugars.

From the podcast interview with Don Huber.

John: Are there any negative health consequences of plants having high levels of fructose and glucose?

Don: Yes and no, depending on what other stresses there are present. If you have a deficiency of manganese, for instance, it can’t store the reducing sugars―glucose and fructose―that are being produced through photosynthesis. It can’t store them as sucrose, and so they become very attractive reducing sugars, and they become very attractive to insect pests and to a number of plant pathogens.

Manganese is a critical factor for that sucrose-phosphate synthase enzyme that converts glucose and fructose into sucrose for storage. If you’re deficient in manganese, you’ll have high reducing sugars―glucose and fructose. As insects like aphids fly over these plants, they can detect that high reducing sugar, and for them, it’s a red flag saying, “Hey, come in for dinner!” But if those sugars are converted to sucrose and stored there, you don’t see that attraction.

Reducing sugars come out of the root system―they’re the root exudates that are attracting Pythium and Phytophthora and Aphanomyces and those other oomycete pathogens―root-rotting pathogens.


John: Don, you described how the carbohydrate profile can attract aphids. Are there other insects that can be attracted by the carbohydrate profile?

Don: A lot of them are. I don’t know that all of them are, but many recognize the difference between the reducing sugars, and they don’t seem to be attracted to the non-reducing sugars nearly as much. You’ll see that association. When we get the minerals balanced for the plant, you’ll see all of those problems start to disappear or be very minor.

P.S. I appeared as a guest on The Modern Acre podcast in this episode.

Attracting honeybees to your crop for pollination

Sometimes honeybees are more attracted to dandelions or other blooming flowers than they are to your crop, and pollination suffers.

Honeybees will only actively work blossoms with a minimum of 7 Brix sugar content in the nectar (unless they are foraging for pollen), otherwise they expend more energy than they gain.

When you have a healthy crop where the blossom nectar Brix is higher than competing flowers, bees will work the crop first. High Brix nectar is the solution to poor pollination and limited honeybee activity.

2020-03-16T13:58:16-05:00January 27th, 2020|Tags: , , |

Insect susceptibility determined by types of plant sugars

Sugar metabolism and carbohydrate synthesis are at the very foundation of plant health, but we generally don’t learn much about them in agronomy or even entomology. The types of sugars and the relative concentration of different sugars contained within the plant seem to be foundational in determining susceptibility/resistance to many herbivorous insects.

Here are a few excerpts from Harold Willis1 I found interesting:

The role of sugar in insect attack of plants is fascinating. Based on research done on various insect and plant species, apparently insects like moderate amounts of plant sugars and are attracted to plants containing them. But high concentrations of sugars are avoided by leafhoppers, grasshoppers, and the European corn borer2

Alfalfa was found to be resistant to pea aphid when its stem tissues had a more acid ph and higher levels of sugar (pentoses) and pectic substances (larger carbohydrate molecules formed by linked sugars). Pentose sugars are formed from hexose sugars which are the original products of photosynthesis. Alfalfa plants that are normally susceptible to aphids will become resistant if the above-mentioned cellular changes occur3

A possible reason that some insects avoid high sugar plants comes from research by G Fraenkel. Some sugars and sugar alcohol combinations (glucoside and mannoside) interfere with normal utilization of other sugars, and so are toxic to insects (mealworms)4. The inhibitory sugars are found mainly combined with other molecules in plants, but if digested by insects and in the presence of the sugar glucose, their toxic effects occur5.

Our knowledge of plant immunology has progressed well beyond this research in the ’40s and ’50s, but the practical application has fallen well short. I describe how we have applied these principles in our plant health pyramid infographic and on YouTube here.

1. Willis, H. Crop pests and fertilizers – is there a connection?

2. Thorsteinson, A. J. Host Selection in Phytophagous Insects. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 5, 193–218 (1960).

3. Emery, W. T. Temporary Immunity in Alfalfa Ordinarily Susceptible to Attack by the Pea Aphid. Journal of Agricultural Research 73, 33–43 (1946).

4. Fraenkel, G. Inhibitory effects of sugars on the growth of the mealworm, Tenebrio molitor L. J. Cell. Comp. Physiol. 45, 393–408 (1955).

5. Dethier, V. G. & Rhoades, M. V. Sugar preference-aversion functions for the blowfly. J. Exp. Zool. 126, 177–203 (1954).

2020-05-22T07:17:19-05:00December 7th, 2019|Tags: , , , |
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