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Using plants to silence insect genes in a high-throughput manner
Date:2/2/2012

Natural toxins against herbivores

More than 200,000 insects species are herbivores. They depend on plants for food and have adapted their metabolism accordingly in the course of evolution to render plant defenses, such as the toxins plants produce to fend off herbivores, ineffective. The operating instructions of these detoxification processes are coded in different genes. Insects have evolved an enormous diversity of adaptation mechanisms; they colonize most habitats on this planet which makes them interesting research objects in ecological studies. Which insect species attack which plants species? Which toxins or signaling substances are involved? Has the insect species adapted to one specific plant species or is it a food generalist? Interesting for agriculture: Which genes allow particular pest insects, such as the pollen beetle Meligethes aeneus or the Western corn rootworm Diabrotica virgifera virgifera, to be so destructive to crop plants? Knowing these detoxification genes and switching them off with the consequence that plant toxins are no longer effective, is currently a research subject in plant breeding. First success stories have already been reported thanks to the use of RNAi technology.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology examined a well-known plant toxin: nicotine. Plants of the species Nicotiana attenuata (coyote tobacco) produce nicotine as a defensive substance against herbivores. However, it does not have any toxic effects on their worst enemy: larvae of the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta. The insect is resistant against this alkaloid; genes that encode nicotine-catabolizing enzymes may be responsible for its resistance. These so called CYP genes are involved in the formation of cytochrome P450 enzymes; the expression of some of these genes is increased as soon as the insect larvae are exposed to nicotine in their food. Ian Baldwin and his team identified the DNA seq
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Contact: Ian T. Baldwin
baldwin@ice.mpg.de
49-364-157-1101
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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