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Host change alters toxic cocktail
Date:3/11/2011

www.ice.mpg.de/ext/735.html). These defensive secretions contain toxins that the larvae sequester from chemical precursors they have ingested with their plant food. The toxin precursors pass the larva's midgut and reach the defensive glands via a sophisticated molecular transport system. Only a few chemical steps are necessary to produce the actual toxin in the gland.

Dependent on the host plant

Most leaf beetle species only attack one single plant species to feed and reproduce. On the one hand, the uptake of special plant molecules as substrates for toxin-producing enzymes is economical for the beetle larvae; on the other hand, however, the leaf beetles become strongly dependent on the host plant and its specific metabolites. Willows of the Salicaceae family have up to 5 percent glycosylated salicyl alcohol (Salicin) in their leaves, whereas birch trees do not contain these compounds at all. Hence, researchers in the Department of Bioorganic Chemistry of the institute in Jena have investigated how Chrysomela lapponica leaf beetles adapted to both birch and willow as host trees.

First they analyzed in a simple but decisive experiment whether the loss of salicylaldehyde in birch feeders is only due to the fact that the precursor Salicin is not available in birch. To test this they offered willow leaves to hungry leaf beetle larvae they had collected from birch trees. "The beetles were able to ingest Salicin from willow leaves; salicyl alcohol was also detected in their defensive secretions. However, the alcohol was not transformed to an aldehyde; this means that birch feeders lack the enzyme salicyl alcohol oxidase, which is responsible for the oxidation from alcohol to aldehyde," explains Roy Kirsch, who addresses these topics in his PhD project.

Alternative splicing inactivates enzyme in birch feeders

Biochemical analyses revealed that gland secretions of salicylaldehyde producing willow
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Contact: Wilhelm Boland
boland@ice.mpg.de
49-364-157-1200
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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