Benzoxazinoids (BXs) are secondary metabolites present in many Poaceae including the major crops maize, wheat, and rye. In contrast to other potentially toxic secondary metabolites, BXs have not been targets of counter selection during breeding and the effect of BXs on insects, microbes, and neighbouring plants has been recognised. A broad knowledge about the mode of action and metabolisation in target organisms including herbivorous insects, aphids, and plants has been gathered in the last decades. BX biosynthesis has been elucidated on a molecular level in crop cereals. Recent advances, mainly made by investigations in maize, uncovered a significant diversity in the composition of BXs within one species. The pattern can be specific for single plant lines and dynamic changes triggered by biotic and abiotic stresses were observed. Single BXs might be toxic, repelling, attractive, and even growth-promoting for insects, depending on the particular species. BXs delivered into the soil influence plant and microbial communities. Furthermore, BXs can possibly be used as signalling molecules within the plant. In this review we intend to give an overview of the current data on the biosynthesis, structure, and function of BXs, beyond their characterisation as mere phytotoxins.
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