Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

From protein to planes and pigskin: Discovery in insects' skin points to improved pest control, new bioplastics technology

Date:
September 22, 2011
Source:
Kansas State University
Summary:
The discovery that a protein in insect skin is responsible for protecting the insect as it molts its skin opens the possibilities for selective pest control and new biomaterials like football padding or lightweight aircraft components. It also debunks a more than 50-year-old belief about the protective shell of insects.

Scientists may soon be able to make pest insects buzz off for good or even turn them into models for new technologies, all thanks to a tiny finding with enormous potential.

Related Articles


Sujata Chaudhari, a Kansas State University doctoral candidate in biochemistry, Pune, India, is the senior author of a study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also called PNAS. Her work includes a discovery that could expand the possibilities for selective pest control and new biomaterials like football padding or lightweight aircraft components -- and all by debunking a more than 50-year-old belief about the protective shell of insects.

The study looks at the red flour beetle and examines the dynamic biochemical processes the insect uses to replace the protective coating on its skin while shedding its old skin. This coating is called the cuticle and is the main structural and protective part of an insect's exoskeleton, creating a stiff but lightweight outer shell or flexible wings and joints.

"As an insect develops, it outgrows its rigid skin and must periodically get rid of its old cuticle and synthesize a new, larger one," Chaudhari said. "This process of shedding the old cuticle is called molting."

In order to molt, the insect's body secretes a fluid loaded with an enzyme called chitinase, which is pronounced ky-tin-ayes. Chitinase breaks down chitin, the main component of the cuticle, and consequently aids in dissolving the insect's old cuticle. For decades it has been assumed that chitinase does not come into contact with and dissolve the insect's newly formed cuticle because of an impenetrable envelope between the old and new cuticles, Chaudhari said.

But Chaudhari and her colleagues found that's not actually the case.

Instead, their research shows that chitinase is present in the new cuticle as well as in the old cuticle. Moreover, they found that the enveloping layer that separates the two cuticles is not responsible for protecting the new cuticle from being dissolved by chitinase. Rather it is the protein called Knickkopf -- pronounced kuh-NICK-kaw-pff.

"Think of Knickkopf as a fire retardant, chitinase as a fire, and the insect's cuticle as the wall of a house," said Subbaratnam Muthukrishnan, a university distinguished professor of biochemistry at Kansas State University, Chaudhari's adviser and a collaborator on the study. "During molting, it's like the house is on fire, but the fire is only burning things on the outside. Everything inside is safe because there's a fire retardant wall."

Although this discovery that chitinase is stopped by a protein and not a physical barrier was made in the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, the same protein is found in all other insect species examined, and probably has the same chitin-protective function, Chaudhari said. Most likely the same holds true for all arthropods: insects, arachnids, crustaceans, nematodes and other organisms. That's a game-changer for scientists and inventors.

In the future, agricultural crop pests like the red flour beetle could find themselves the targets of insecticides or interfering RNAs that shut down the Knickkopf protein, leaving the insect's body open to disease or to molting defects, said Richard Beeman, a Kansas State University entomology adjunct professor, researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and collaborator on the project. Additionally, the beetle's cuticle could be replicated into new lightweight body armor, prosthetics or materials for flight.

"The cuticle is a gigantic puzzle, and we're slowly finding what the pieces are in the puzzle and how they interact to make the cuticle, organize it and digest it," said Karl Kramer, a Kansas State University emeritus biochemistry adjunct professor and collaborator with the USDA, who also worked on the project. "In solving the puzzle, we could target these composition materials for improved insect control. We could also develop biomaterial that could be used in agriculture or medicine -- or even make K-State football coach Bill Snyder some new protective padding for the Wildcats."

The study, "Knickkopf protein protects and organizes chitin in the newly synthesized insect exoskeleton," includes team members Yoonseong Park, a Kansas State University associate professor of entomology; Daniel Boyle, a Kansas State University research assistant professor of biology; Yasuyuki Arakane at Chonnam National University in Korea; Bernard Moussian at the University of Tuebingen in Germany; and Charles Specht at the University of Massachusetts. It was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. S. S. Chaudhari, Y. Arakane, C. A. Specht, B. Moussian, D. L. Boyle, Y. Park, K. J. Kramer, R. W. Beeman, S. Muthukrishnan. Knickkopf protein protects and organizes chitin in the newly synthesized insect exoskeleton. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1112288108

Cite This Page:

Kansas State University. "From protein to planes and pigskin: Discovery in insects' skin points to improved pest control, new bioplastics technology." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110921120052.htm>.
Kansas State University. (2011, September 22). From protein to planes and pigskin: Discovery in insects' skin points to improved pest control, new bioplastics technology. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110921120052.htm
Kansas State University. "From protein to planes and pigskin: Discovery in insects' skin points to improved pest control, new bioplastics technology." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110921120052.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Millions of monarch butterflies begin to descend onto Mexico as part of their annual migration south. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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