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

beetles contain the enzyme salicyl alcohol oxidase in strikingly large amounts. The scientists labeled it SAO-W (W: willow). Using corresponding DNA sequence data they isolated and characterized the SAO-B (B: birch) encoding gene from birch feeders. They found that the amino acid sequences of both enzymes are 97 percent identical. However, SAO-B has become inactive because 27 amino acids at the beginning of the polypeptide chain are missing. This was confirmed after heterologous expression in an insect cell culture and subsequent functional tests. Further studies on the defensive glands of birch feeders showed that the amount of messenger RNA (mRNA) of the SAO-B gene was reduced by 1000 times compared to willow beetles; the protein and its enzyme activity were below the detection level. The lack of enzyme activity is caused by a mutation in the SAO-B gene located in the area of the second exon/intron junction. The mutation is responsible for changes in mRNA processing, so-called alternative splicing, which leads to the loss of 27 amino acids in the SAO-B enzyme.

The scientists conclude that, originally, Chrysomela lapponica used willows exclusively as host plants and later shifted to birch trees as well. "It is still unclear, whether the gene mutation has enabled the host plant shift from willow to birch or whether it was adapted in the course of evolution after the shift to birch had occurred," says Wilhelm Boland, the leader of the study. Genetic analysis of further SAO genes from Chrysomela leaf beetle species will allow a better understanding of these processes. [JWK, AO]


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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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