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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Integrated transcriptomics and metabolomics decipher differences in the resistance of pedunculate oak to the herbivore Tortrix viridana L.

Birgit Kersten1, Andrea Ghirardo2, Jörg-Peter Schnitzler2, Basem Kanawati3, Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin3, Matthias Fladung1 and Hilke Schroeder1*

Author Affiliations

1 Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics, Sieker Landstrasse 2, D-22927, Grosshansdorf, Germany

2 Helmholtz Zentrum München, Institute of Biochemical Plant Pathology, Research Unit Environmental Simulation, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, D-85764, Neuherberg, Germany

3 Helmholtz Zentrum München, Research Unit Biogeochemistry and Analytics, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, D-85764, Neuherberg, Germany

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:737  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-737

Published: 28 October 2013



The interaction between insect pests and their host plants is a never-ending race of evolutionary adaption. Plants have developed an armament against insect herbivore attacks, and attackers continuously learn how to address it. Using a combined transcriptomic and metabolomic approach, we investigated the molecular and biochemical differences between Quercus robur L. trees that resisted (defined as resistant oak type) or were susceptible (defined as susceptible oak type) to infestation by the major oak pest, Tortrix viridana L.


Next generation RNA sequencing revealed hundreds of genes that exhibited constitutive and/or inducible differential expression in the resistant oak compared to the susceptible oak. Distinct differences were found in the transcript levels and the metabolic content with regard to tannins, flavonoids, and terpenoids, which are compounds involved in the defence against insect pests. The results of our transcriptomic and metabolomic analyses are in agreement with those of a previous study in which we showed that female moths prefer susceptible oaks due to their specific profile of herbivore-induced volatiles. These data therefore define two oak genotypes that clearly differ on the transcriptomic and metabolomic levels, as reflected by their specific defensive compound profiles.


We conclude that the resistant oak type seem to prefer a strategy of constitutive defence responses in contrast to more induced defence responses of the susceptible oaks triggered by feeding. These results pave the way for the development of biomarkers for an early determination of potentially green oak leaf roller-resistant genotypes in natural pedunculate oak populations in Europe.

RNA sequencing; Transcriptomics; Metabolomics; Defence response; Quercus robur; Tortrix viridana