16 February 2016

Determining the structure of “death acids” in plants

Model of death acid action in maize. Model of death acid action in maize.

Scientists analyzing maize affected by southern leaf blight determine the molecular structures of so-called “death acids.”

First, some background

Plants combat the potentially devastating impacts of disease and insects by generating certain kinds of fatty acids called oxylipins. Researchers recently identified a series of these acids that are produced in dying tissue. These aptly-named "death acids" play a role in protecting the surviving tissue in the plant.

What did the scientists discover?

At the MagLab's Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy (AMRIS) facility, scientists analyzed maize affected by southern leaf blight. They determined the molecular structures of some of these death acids and described a novel series of potent signaling compounds. Their work sheds light on previously unknown cell defense and cell death mechanisms.

Why is this important?

Understanding the biochemical basis of signals regulating stress resilience in crops is essential to support sustained population growth.

Who did the research?

Shawn A. Christensen1, Fatma Kaplan2, James Sims3, Alisa Huffaker4, Eric A. Schmelz4

1USDA; 2Kaplan Schiller Research; 3ETH Zurich; 4University of California at San Diego

Why did they need the MagLab?

This work was achieved using unique 1H and 13C NMR spectroscopy capabilities at the MagLab's AMRIS facility at the University of Florida.

Details for scientists


This research was funded by the following grants: G.S. Boebinger (NSF DMR-1157490); G. Jander, E. Schmelz, A. Huffsker (NSF IOS-1139329)

For more information, contact Joanna Long.


  • Research Area: Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry
  • Research Initiatives: Life
  • Facility / Program: AMRIS
  • Year: 2016
Last modified on 18 February 2016