Successful herbivore attack due to metabolic diversion of a plant chemical defense

Ute Wittstock, Niels Agerbirk, Einar J Stauber, Carl Erik Olsen, Michael Hippler, Thomas Mitchell-Olds, Jonathan Gershenzon, Heiko Vogel
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2004 April 6, 101 (14): 4859-64
Plants protect themselves against herbivory with a diverse array of repellent or toxic secondary metabolites. However, many herbivorous insects have developed counteradaptations that enable them to feed on chemically defended plants without apparent negative effects. Here, we present evidence that larvae of the specialist insect, Pieris rapae (cabbage white butterfly, Lepidoptera: Pieridae), are biochemically adapted to the glucosinolate-myrosinase system, the major chemical defense of their host plants. The defensive function of the glucosinolate-myrosinase system results from the toxic isothiocyanates that are released when glucosinolates are hydrolyzed by myrosinases on tissue disruption. We show that the hydrolysis reaction is redirected toward the formation of nitriles instead of isothiocyanates if plant material is ingested by P. rapae larvae, and that the nitriles are excreted with the feces. The ability to form nitriles is due to a larval gut protein, designated nitrile-specifier protein, that by itself has no hydrolytic activity on glucosinolates and that is unrelated to any functionally characterized protein. Nitrile-specifier protein appears to be the key biochemical counteradaptation that allows P. rapae to feed with impunity on plants containing glucosinolates and myrosinases. This finding sheds light on the ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions and suggests novel highly selective pest management strategies.

Full Text Links

Find Full Text Links for this Article


You are not logged in. Sign Up or Log In to join the discussion.

Related Papers

Remove bar
Read by QxMD icon Read

Save your favorite articles in one place with a free QxMD account.


Search Tips

Use Boolean operators: AND/OR

diabetic AND foot
diabetes OR diabetic

Exclude a word using the 'minus' sign

Virchow -triad

Use Parentheses

water AND (cup OR glass)

Add an asterisk (*) at end of a word to include word stems

Neuro* will search for Neurology, Neuroscientist, Neurological, and so on

Use quotes to search for an exact phrase

"primary prevention of cancer"
(heart or cardiac or cardio*) AND arrest -"American Heart Association"