Plant somatic mutations in nature conferring insect and herbicide resistance.
Because of the role of the meristem in plant growth and reproduction, somatic mutations in plants have long been suspected of conferring herbivore and pathogen resistance on individual plants and, in the case of trees, individual branches within single plants. A few instances of resistance to phytophagous insects owing to somatic mutations have been reported in the literature. More recently, a striking example has demonstrated how somatic mutations confer resistance to an herbicide on an invasive plant, Hydrilla verticillata. The array of new methods for manipulating genomes (e.g., gene-editing) plus existing examples of somatic mutation-associated resistance suggest that such mutations might be useful in silviculture, agriculture, and horticulture. Answering several general questions about somatic mutations in plants would facilitate such applications: Why are so few examples reported? Do other cases exist but go undetected for want of adequate attention or methods? Under what circumstances do somatic mutations enter gametophytes?