Induced plant resistance depends on the production of specialized metabolites that repel attack by biotic aggressors and is often associated with reduced growth of vegetative tissues. Despite progress in understanding the signal transduction networks that control growth-defense tradeoffs, much remains to be learned about how growth rate is coordinated with changes in metabolism during growth-to-defense transitions. Here, we highlight recent advances in jasmonate research to suggest how a major branch of plant immunity is dynamically regulated to calibrate growth-defense balance with shifts in carbon availability. We review evidence that diminished growth, as an integral facet of induced resistance, may optimize the temporal and spatial expression of defense compounds without compromising other critical roles of central metabolism. New insights into the evolution of jasmonate signaling further suggest that opposing selective pressures associated with too much or too little defense may have shaped the emergence of a modular jasmonate pathway that integrates primary and specialized metabolism through the control of repressor-transcription factor complexes. A better understanding of the mechanistic basis of growth-defense balance has important implications for boosting plant productivity, including insights into how these tradeoffs may be uncoupled for agricultural improvement.
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