A novel role for proline in plant floral nectars

Clay Carter, Sharoni Shafir, Lia Yehonatan, Reid G. Palmer, Robert Thornburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Plants offer metabolically rich floral nectar to attract visiting pollinators. The composition of nectar includes not only sugars, but also amino acids. We have examined the amino acid content of the nectar of ornamental tobacco and found that it is extremely rich (2 mM) in proline. Because insect pollinators preferentially utilize proline during the initial phases of insect flight and can reportedly taste proline, we determined whether honeybees showed a preference for synthetic nectars rich in proline. We therefore established an insect preference test and found that honeybees indeed prefer nectars rich in the amino acid proline. To determine whether this was a general phenomenon, we also examined the nectars of two insect-pollinated wild perennial species of soybean. These species also showed high levels of proline in their nectars demonstrating that plants often produce proline-rich floral nectar. Because insects such as honeybees prefer proline-rich nectars, we hypothesize that some plants offer proline-rich nectars as a mechanism to attract visiting pollinators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-79
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2006


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