Journal Article

Isoprene Emission from Plants: Why and How

Thomas D. Sharkey, Amy E. Wiberley and Autumn R. Donohue

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 101, issue 1, pages 5-18
Published in print January 2008 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online October 2007 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Isoprene Emission from Plants: Why and How

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Some, but not all, plants emit isoprene. Emission of the related monoterpenes is more universal among plants, but the amount of isoprene emitted from plants dominates the biosphere–atmosphere hydrocarbon exchange.


The emission of isoprene from plants affects atmospheric chemistry. Isoprene reacts very rapidly with hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere making hydroperoxides that can enhance ozone formation. Aerosol formation in the atmosphere may also be influenced by biogenic isoprene. Plants that emit isoprene are better able to tolerate sunlight-induced rapid heating of leaves (heat flecks). They also tolerate ozone and other reactive oxygen species better than non-emitting plants. Expression of the isoprene synthase gene can account for control of isoprene emission capacity as leaves expand. The emission capacity of fully expanded leaves varies through the season but the biochemical control of capacity of mature leaves appears to be at several different points in isoprene metabolism.


The capacity for isoprene emission evolved many times in plants, probably as a mechanism for coping with heat flecks. It also confers tolerance of reactive oxygen species. It is an example of isoprenoids enhancing membrane function, although the mechanism is likely to be different from that of sterols. Understanding the regulation of isoprene emission is advancing rapidly now that the pathway that provides the substrate is known.

Keywords: Atmospheric chemistry; isoprene; methylerythritol 4-phosphate pathway; thermotolerance

Journal Article.  9759 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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