New Mechanistic Insights: Why Do Plants Produce Isoprene?

Nassim Zeinali, Mohammednoor Altarawneh, Dan Li, Jomana Al-Nu'Airat, Bogdan Z. Dlugogorski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we argue that the primary role of isoprene is to remove the singlet delta oxygen (O2 1Δg) that forms inside plants by ultraviolet excitation rather than to provide heat protection or scavenge ozone, OH, or other reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the gas phase. By deploying a quantum chemical framework, we address for the first time the exact mode of isoprene reactions with O2 1Δg, the most prominent ROS that causes damage to leaves. Initial reactions of isoprene with O2 1Δg comprise its addition at the two terminal carbon atoms. The two primary open-shell adducts that appear in these reactions undergo 1,2-cycloaddition to generate methyl vinyl ketone and methacrolein, the sole products detected from in-house (i.e., inside of plants) oxidation of isoprene. Formation of other products, comprising the peroxy O-O bonds, is kinetically insignificant. Furthermore, these adducts are thermodynamically too unstable to diffuse outside of plants. Oxidation of isoprene with O2 1Δg does not produce new ROS (such as OH or HO2), supporting the well-documented role of isoprene as an effective ROS scavenger. Deploying a solvation model reduces the energy requirements for the primary pathways in the range of 10-56 kJ/mol. The present results indicate that plants attach significant value to the in-home protection against O2 1Δg by investing carbon and energy into the formation of isoprene, in spite of the appearance of the cytotoxic methyl vinyl ketone as one of the reaction products. (The same chemical species also form in unrelated gas-phase reactions involving isoprene and other ROS.) This finding explains the primary reason for the appearance of the dynamic biosphere-atmosphere exchange of methyl vinyl ketone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-225
Number of pages6
JournalACS Omega
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 31 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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