A high glucosinolate (putatively anti-cancer) broccoli variety is now on the market. Jeanne wonders if caterpillar herbivory-induced increases in glucosinolates can match it. The answer is unsatisfyingly complicated.
There are three primary reasons why I haven’t launched aggressive war on the cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) caterpillars munching on the cruciferous veggies in my garden, even though I don’t like them: (1) garden neglect; (2) hostility towards most pesticides; and (3) bonhomie toward caterpillars by my toddler. There is also a fourth reason. I know that in general most plants increase production of chemical defense compounds when they detect that they’re being attacked by pathogens or herbivores (Textor and Gershenzon 2009). Some of these defense compounds have been shown to be beneficial for human health, including those in crucifers. I’ve been wondering for a while if those caterpillars were actually enhancing the value of the tissue they didn’t consume. A recent report about a high-defense-compound laden variety of broccoli prompted me to do some research into the issue. I’m left with more questions than answers. Continue reading