Figure 1. Typical skeletal backbones for the majority of secondary plant metabolites.
Although referred to as ‘secondary metabolites,’ implying a function of onlysecoyal Commission on Environmental Pollutiondirected to three excellent reviews [1-3]. Although rhizodeposition plays a central rolein establishing and sustaining a soil system, this chapter will focus on a class of compounds, secondary plant metabolites (SPMe), that are nearly four-orders of magnitude more diverse than the typical rhizodeposits. Over 100 000 low-molecular-mass SPMe have been described with an estimated 400 000 yet to be discovered .Many of these SPMe contain one of the following chemical structural backbones:isoprene, phenylpropene, alkaloid or fatty acid/polyketide (Figure 1) .
Isoprene PhenylpropeneAlkaloid Fatty acid/polyketideondary importance to the plant, SPMe fulfill a range of vital functions: (1)antimicrobial activity; (2) insect and microbial attraction; (3) insect and microbialdeterrent; (4) plant-plant signal; (5) stress response; and (6) germination and growthinhibition .The volatile low-molecular mass SPMe have a range of functional groups(hydrocarbons, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, ethers and esters), which play integralroles in how plants interact with their environment. Volatile emissions from flowersand fruits, for example, provide clues to animals, pollinators and seed disseminators,while those from vegetative tissues contribute to plant defence systems by repellingmicroorganisms and animals or attracting herbivore predators, thereby protecting the plant through tritrophic interactions .THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEMThe Twenty-Fourth Report by the R stated that there are between 30 000 and 100 000 chemicals on the market contributingannually to $50 billion and $1.7 trillion chemical industries in the United Kingdom andUnited States, respectively (2002 estimates) . Every year, approaching 2000 novelxenobiotic chemicals are added to this list, the vast majority of which have not beentested for even the most basic indications of environmental hazard. It is now recognisedthat this policy has been responsible for a number of environmental catastrophes suchas: (1) reproduction failures in songbirds resulting from the organochlorine pesticide4,4'-(2,2,2-trichloroethane
,1-diyl)bis(chlorobenzene) (DDT) which was highlighted byRachel Carson’s landmark book,
in 1962 ; (2) bioaccumulation of the