Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The way to (kill) a bug's heart is through its stomach

Date:
May 21, 2011
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
A new study has revealed a potential new way for plants to fend off pests -- starvation. A biochemistry and molecular biology professor cites this defense mechanism as just one example of a veritable evolutionary arms race between plants and herbivores.

A new study shows that plants can fend off caterpillars by starving them.
Credit: Photo by Kurt Stepnitz

A study at Michigan State University has revealed a potential new way for plants to fend off pests -- starvation. Gregg Howe, biochemistry and molecular biology professor, cites that this defense mechanism is just one example of a veritable evolutionary arms race between plants and herbivores.

Howe, in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers insights to understanding the chemical weaponry of this war, which could lead to new approaches to protect crops.

All plants produce the enzyme threonine deaminase, or TD1. Howe's research focused on potato and tomato plants, which also have the ability to produce a closely related enzyme TD2 when attacked by caterpillars. Rather than repel caterpillars, however, TD2's devastating effects come later -- in the pests' stomachs. TD2 goes to work in the gut of caterpillars to degrade threonine, a key nutrient they need to grow. In essence, the plant actively starves the caterpillar.

The battle sees plants continually developing chemical defenses to fend off their herbivore adversaries' ever-adapting arsenal, said Howe, who co-authored the paper with Eliana Gonzales-Vigil, visiting research associate in MSU's horticulture department.

"The arms-race paradigm is quite important for explaining plant chemical diversity and interactions between plants and herbivores in general," he said. "Unfortunately, our understanding of the molecular evolution of chemical defensive traits is still in its infancy."

What the young research has revealed already, however, is that the ability of TD2 to break down threonine is activated only after it enters the insect's gut in the form of a chewed up leaf. The capacity of TD2 as a defense against pests was bolstered when the research team identified the enzyme's x-ray crystal structure. Seeing that it had a more stable structure and is more resilient than TD1 or other TDs, suggests that the enzyme is a key that could lead to new forms of pesticides, Howe said.

"This confirms a role for gene duplication in the evolution of plant defenses that target the digestive process of insects," he said. "It represents a novel approach to protecting plants against pests."

The study is a collaboration between the MSU-Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin Madison. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy and supported by MSU AgBioResearch.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. Gonzales-Vigil, C. M. Bianchetti, G. N. Phillips, G. A. Howe. Adaptive evolution of threonine deaminase in plant defense against insect herbivores. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1016157108

Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "The way to (kill) a bug's heart is through its stomach." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110329151456.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2011, May 21). The way to (kill) a bug's heart is through its stomach. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110329151456.htm
Michigan State University. "The way to (kill) a bug's heart is through its stomach." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110329151456.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Since the arrival of Ebola in Ivory Coast, Ivorians have been abandoning their pets, particularly monkeys, in the fear that they may transmit the virus. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins