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Lethal backfire: Green odor with fatal consequences for voracious caterpillars
Date:8/26/2010

ed. Hence the unknown substance is likely an enzyme, because enzymes are typically heat labile. The scientists also determined whether tobacco plants react specifically on Manduca sexta oral secretions or to secretions of other larval species as well. Interestingly, the secretions of two Spodopera species (Spodoptera exigua and S. littoralis) had significantly lower effects.

However, one question remains unanswered: Why does the oral secretion of Manduca sexta larvae contain a substance which endangers the larvae's lives as soon as they start feeding on tobacco leaves? Silke Allmann and Ian Baldwin hypothesize that the production of (E)-2-hexenal protects the larvae against other untested attackers, such as bacteria. Harmful microorganisms, consumed by the larvae every day in large amounts together with the leaf tissue, may be killed quickly and effectively by (E)-2-hexenal, which is known to be a strong antibiotic agent. Hence the detrimental aspects of producing (E)-2-hexenal, that of betraying the precise location of the Manduca sexta larvae to their enemies, may be balanced by the benefits of fewer bacterial infections. Regardless, the winner in this tritrophic food chain is the carnivore Geocoris, which is well fed as a result of the response thanks to its highly sensitive antennae which enable it to smell the slightest concentrations of (E)-2-hexenal. [JWK, AO]


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Contact: Ian T. Baldwin
baldwin@ice.mpg.de
49-017-518-04226
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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