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Review
, 92 (1), 2-8

The Chemistry of Defense: Theory and Practice

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Review

The Chemistry of Defense: Theory and Practice

M R Berenbaum. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

Defensive chemicals used by organisms for protection against potential consumers are generally products of secondary metabolism. Such chemicals are characteristic of free-living organisms with a limited range of movement or limited control over their movements. Despite the fact that chemical defense is widespread among animals as well as plants, the vast majority of theories advanced to account for patterns of allocation of energy and materials to defensive chemistry derive exclusively from studies of plant-herbivore interactions. Many such theories place an undue emphasis on primary physiological processes that are unique to plants (e.g., photosynthesis), rendering such theories limited in their utility or predictive power. The general failure of any single all-encompassing theory to gain acceptance to date may indicate that such a theory might not be a biologically realistic expectation. In lieu of refining theory, focusing attention on the genetic and biochemical mechanisms that underlie chemical defense allocation is likely to provide greater insights into understanding patterns across taxa. In particular, generalizations derived from understanding such mechanisms in natural systems have immediate applications in altering patterns of human use of natural and synthetic chemicals for pest control.

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