To reduce the need for seasonal inputs, crop protection will have to be delivered via the seed and other planting material. Plant secondary metabolism can be harnessed for this purpose by new breeding technologies, genetic modification and companion cropping, the latter already on-farm in sub-Saharan Africa. Secondary metabolites offer the prospect of pest management as robust as that provided by current pesticides, for which many lead compounds were, or are currently deployed as, natural products. Evidence of success and promise is given for pest management in industrial and developing agriculture. Additionally, opportunities for solving wider problems of sustainable crop protection, and also production, are discussed.
The sand fly Lutzomyia longipalpis (Lutz & Neiva) (Diptera: Psychodidae: Phlebotominae) is the main vector of American visceral leishmaniasis. Adult males produce a terpenoid sex pheromone that in some cases also acts as male aggregation pheromone. We have analyzed the correlation between male pheromone production levels and pheromone gland cell morphogenesis after adult emergence from pupae. The abdominal tergites of L. longipalpis males were dissected and fixed in glutaraldehyde for transmission electron microscopy, or the pheromone was extracted in analytical grade hexane. Pheromone chemical analysis was carried out at 3- to 6-h intervals during the first 24 h after emergence and continued daily until the seventh day. All extracts were analyzed by gas chromatography. For the morphological analysis, we used insects collected at 0-6, 9-12, 12-14, and 96 h after emergence. Ultrastructural data from 0- to 6-h-old adult males revealed smaller pheromone gland cells with small microvilli at the end apparatus. Lipid droplets and peroxisomes were absent or very rare, but a large number of mitochondria could be seen. Lipid droplets started to appear in the gland cells cytoplasm approximately 9 h after adult emergence, and their number and size increased with age, together with the presence of several peroxisomes, suggesting a role for these organelles in pheromone biosynthesis. At 12-15 h after emergence, the lipid droplets were mainly distributed near the microvilli but were smaller than those in mature older males (4 d old). Pheromone biosynthesis started around 12 h after emergence and increased continuously during the first 3 d, stabilizing thereafter, coinciding with the period when males are more able to attract females.
Lepidopteran stemborers and parasitic weeds in the genus Striga are major constraints to efficient production of cereals, the most important staple food crops in Africa. Smallholder farmers are resource constrained and unable to afford expensive chemicals for crop protection. Development of a push-pull approach for integrated pest and weed management is reviewed here. Appropriate plants were discovered that naturally emit signalling chemicals (semiochemicals). Plants highly attractive for egg laying by stemborer pests were selected and employed as trap crops (pull), to draw pests away from the main crop. Of these, Napier grass, Pennisetum purpureum (Schumach), despite its attractiveness, supported minimal survival of the pests immature stages. Plants that repelled stemborer pests, notably molasses grass, Melinis minutiflora P. Beauv., and forage legumes in the genus Desmodium, were selected as intercrops (push). Desmodium intercrops suppress Striga hermonthica (Del.) Benth. through an allelopathic mechanism. Their root exudates contain novel flavonoid compounds, which stimulate suicidal germination of S. hermonthica seeds and dramatically inhibit its attachment to host roots. The companion crops provide valuable forage for farm animals while the leguminous intercrops also improve soil fertility and moisture retention. The system is appropriate as it is based on locally available plants, not expensive external inputs, and fits well with traditional mixed cropping systems in Africa. To date it has been adopted by more than 30,000 smallholder farmers in East Africa where maize yields have increased from ?1 t ha(-1) to 3.5 t ha(-1). Future directions for semiochemical delivery by plants including biotechnological opportunities are discussed.
Parasitic plants, through a range of infestation strategies, can attack crop plants and thereby require management. Because such problems often occur in resource-poor farming systems, companion cropping to manage parasitic plants is an appropriate approach. Many examples of companion cropping for this purpose have been reported, but the use of cattle forage legumes in the genus Desmodium as intercrops has been shown to be particularly successful in controlling the parasitic witchweeds (Striga spp.) that afflict approximately one quarter of sub-Saharan African cereal production. Through the use of this example, the development of effective companion crops is described, together with developments toward widespread adoption and understanding the underlying mechanisms, both for sustainability and ensuring food security, and also for exploitation beyond the cropping systems described here.
In East African small-holder farming of maize, the cattle forage legume, Desmodium uncinatum is used as an intercrop due to its allelopathic inhibition of parasitism by Striga hermonthica, an obligate parasitic weed that can devastate the maize crop. Bioassay-guided fractionation of the root extract of D. uncinatum revealed isoschaftoside to be the main compound in the most potent fraction inhibiting growth of germinated S. hermonthica radicles. Bioassays repeated with isoschaftoside isolated from a different plant source, Passiflora incarnata, proved it to be a biologically active component. Analysis of the root exudates produced by hydroponically grown D. uncinatum showed isoschaftoside to be present in the hydroponic media at biologically active concentrations of 10-100 nM.
Chip-assisted high-throughput ESI-MS analysis of the pheromone-binding protein of the silkworm moth Bombyx mori, BmorPBP1, incubated with its pheromone components bombykol, bombykal and analogues was developed. The protein bound to bombykol ((10E,12Z)-hexadecadien-1-ol) and all 3 of its geometric isomers to a lesser extent, and showed relaxed specificity toward different chain lengths possessing unsaturation. BmorPBP1 did not bind to bombykal ((10E,12Z)-hexadecadienal), demonstrating molecular recognition of the insect pheromone components.
In smallholder farming in East Africa, intercropping of maize with the cattle forage legume, Desmodium uncinatum Jacq., prevents parasitism by Striga hermonthica (Del.) Benth. (witchweed) through an allelopathic mechanism. Isoschaftoside, a di-C-glycosylflavone, isolated from the root extract and root exudate of Desmodium, interferes with in vitro radicle development of germinated Striga. The biosynthetic pathway of this class of compound is already mostly present in edible legumes and in cereals, so characterisation of the enzyme and genes that control C-glycosylflavone biosynthesis has the potential to create this protection mechanism in other agriculturally important plants.
In many insect species, odorant-binding proteins (OBPs) are thought to be responsible for the transport of pheromones and other semiochemicals across the sensillum lymph to the olfactory receptors (ORs) within the antennal sensilla. In the silkworm Bombyx mori, the OBPs are subdivided into three main subfamilies; pheromone-binding proteins (PBPs), general odorant-binding proteins (GOBPs) and antennal-binding proteins (ABPs). We used the MotifSearch algorithm to search for genes encoding putative OBPs in B. mori and found 13, many fewer than are found in the genomes of fruit flies and mosquitoes. The 13 genes include seven new ABP-like OBPs as well as the previously identified PBPs (three), GOBPs (two) and ABPx. Quantitative examination of transcript levels showed that BmorPBP1, BmorGOBP1, BmorGOBP2 and BmorABPx are expressed at very high levels in the antennae and so could be involved in olfaction. A new two-phase binding assay, along with other established assays, showed that BmorPBP1, BmorPBP2, BmorGOBP2 and BmorABPx all bind to the B. mori sex pheromone component (10E,12Z)-hexadecadien-1-ol (bombykol). BmorPBP1, BmorPBP2 and BmorABPx also bind the pheromone component (10E,12Z)-hexadecadienal (bombykal) equally well, whereas BmorGOBP2 can discriminate between bombykol and bombykal. X-ray structures show that when bombykol is bound to BmorGOBP2 it adopts a different conformation from that found when it binds to BmorPBP1. Binding to BmorGOBP2 involves hydrogen bonding to Arg110 rather than to Ser56 as found for BmorPBP1.
Isoschaftoside, an allelopathic di-C-glycosylflavone from Desmodium spp. root exudates, is biosynthesised through sequential glucosylation and arabinosylation of 2-hydroxynaringenin with UDP-glucose and UDP-arabinose. Complete conversion to the flavone requires chemical dehydration implying a dehydratase enzyme has a role in vivo to complete the biosynthesis. The C-glucosyltransferase has been partially characterised and its activity demonstrated in highly purified fractions.
The insect olfactory system, particularly the peripheral sensory system for sex pheromone reception in male moths, is highly selective, but specificity determinants at the receptor level are hitherto unknown. Using the Xenopus oocyte recording system, we conducted a thorough structure-activity relationship study with the sex pheromone receptor of the silkworm moth, Bombyx mori, BmorOR1. When co-expressed with the obligatory odorant receptor co-receptor (BmorOrco), BmorOR1 responded in a dose-dependent fashion to both bombykol and its related aldehyde, bombykal, but the threshold of the latter was about one order of magnitude higher. Solubilizing these ligands with a pheromone-binding protein (BmorPBP1) did not enhance selectivity. By contrast, both ligands were trapped by BmorPBP1 leading to dramatically reduced responses. The silkworm moth pheromone receptor was highly selective towards the stereochemistry of the conjugated diene, with robust response to the natural (10E,12Z)-isomer and very little or no response to the other three isomers. Shifting the conjugated diene towards the functional group or elongating the carbon chain rendered these molecules completely inactive. In contrast, an analogue shortened by two omega carbons elicited the same or slightly higher responses than bombykol. Flexibility of the saturated C1-C9 moiety is important for function as addition of a double or triple bond in position 4 led to reduced responses. The ligand is hypothesized to be accommodated by a large hydrophobic cavity within the helical bundle of transmembrane domains.
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