The ability of a specialized herbivore to overcome the chemical defense of a particular plant taxon not only makes it accessible as a food source but may also provide metabolites to be exploited for communication or chemical defense. Phyllotreta flea beetles are adapted to crucifer plants (Brassicales) that are defended by the glucosinolate-myrosinase system, the so-called "mustard-oil bomb." Tissue damage caused by insect feeding brings glucosinolates into contact with the plant enzyme myrosinase, which hydrolyzes them to form toxic compounds, such as isothiocyanates. However, we previously observed that Phyllotreta striolata beetles themselves produce volatile glucosinolate hydrolysis products. Here, we show that P. striolata adults selectively accumulate glucosinolates from their food plants to up to 1.75% of their body weight and express their own myrosinase. By combining proteomics and transcriptomics, a gene responsible for myrosinase activity in P. striolata was identified. The major substrates of the heterologously expressed myrosinase were aliphatic glucosinolates, which were hydrolyzed with at least fourfold higher efficiency than aromatic and indolic glucosinolates, and ?-O-glucosides. The identified beetle myrosinase belongs to the glycoside hydrolase family 1 and has up to 76% sequence similarity to other ?-glucosidases. Phylogenetic analyses suggest species-specific diversification of this gene family in insects and an independent evolution of the beetle myrosinase from other insect ?-glucosidases.
Plant cell walls are the largest reservoir of organic carbon on earth. To breach and utilize this carbohydrate-rich protective barrier, microbes secrete plant cell wall degrading enzymes (PCWDEs) targeting pectin, cellulose and hemicelluloses. There is a growing body of evidence that genomes of some herbivorous insects also encode PCWDEs, raising questions about their evolutionary origins and functions. Among herbivorous beetles, pectin-degrading polygalacturonases (PGs) are found in the diverse superfamilies Chrysomeloidea (leaf beetles, long-horn beetles) and Curculionoidea (weevils). Here our aim was to test whether these arose from a common ancestor of beetles or via horizontal gene transfer (HGT), and whether PGs kept their ancestral function in degrading pectin or evolved novel functions. Transcriptome data derived from 10 beetle species were screened for PG-encoding sequences and used for phylogenetic comparisons with their bacterial, fungal and plant counterparts. These analyses revealed a large family of PG-encoding genes of Chrysomeloidea and Curculionoidea sharing a common ancestor, most similar to PG genes of ascomycete fungi. In addition, 50 PGs from beetle digestive systems were heterologously expressed and functionally characterized, showing a set of lineage-specific consecutively pectin-degrading enzymes, as well as conserved but enzymatically inactive PG proteins. The evidence indicates that a PG gene was horizontally transferred ?200 million years ago from an ascomycete fungus to a common ancestor of Chrysomeloidea and Curculionoidea. This has been followed by independent duplications in these two lineages, as well as independent replacement in two sublineages of Chrysomeloidea by two other subsequent HGTs. This origin, leading to subsequent functional diversification of the PG gene family within its new hosts, was a key event promoting the evolution of herbivory in these beetles.
Xylophagous insects have evolved to thrive in a highly challenging environment. For example, wood-boring beetles from the family Cerambycidae feed exclusively on woody tissues, and to efficiently access the nutrients present in this sub-optimal environment, they have to cope with the lignocellulose barrier. Whereas microbes of the insect's gut flora were hypothesized to be responsible for the degradation of lignin, the beetle itself depends heavily on the secretion of a range of enzymes, known as plant cell wall degrading enzymes (PCWDEs), to efficiently digest both hemicellulose and cellulose networks. Here we sequenced the larval gut transcriptome of the Mulberry longhorn beetle, Apriona japonica (Cerambycidae, Lamiinae), in order to investigate the arsenal of putative PCWDEs secreted by this species. We combined our transcriptome with all available sequencing data derived from other cerambycid beetles in order to analyze and get insight into the evolutionary history of the corresponding gene families. Finally, we heterologously expressed and functionally characterized the A. japonica PCWDEs we identified from the transcriptome. Together with a range of endo-?-1,4-glucanases, we describe here for the first time the presence in a species of Cerambycidae of (i) a xylanase member of the subfamily 2 of glycoside hydrolase family 5 (GH5 subfamily 2), as well as (ii) an exopolygalacturonase from family GH28. Our analyses greatly contribute to a better understanding of the digestion physiology of this important group of insects, many of which are major pests of forestry worldwide.
Carnivorous plants capture and digest prey to obtain additional nutrients. Therefore, different trapping mechanisms were developed in different species. Plants of the genus Nepenthes possess pitfall-traps filled with a digestive fluid, which is secreted by the plants themselves. This pitcher fluid is composed of various enzymes to digest the captured prey. Besides hydrolytic enzymes, defense-related proteins have been identified in the fluid. The present study describes the identification and heterologous expression of a pathogenesis-related protein, NmPR-1, from pitchers of Nepenthes mirabilis with features that are unusual for PR-1 proteins. In particular, it was proven to be highly glycosylated and, furthermore, it exhibited antibacterial instead of antifungal activities. These properties are probably due to the specific environment of the pitcher fluid.
Cellulose is an important nutritional resource for a number of insect herbivores. Digestion of cellulose and other polysaccharides in plant-based diets requires several types of enzymes including a number of glycoside hydrolase (GH) families. In a previous study, we showed that a single GH45 gene is present in the midgut tissue of the western corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). However, the presence of multiple enzymes was also suggested by the lack of a significant biological response when the expression of the gene was silenced by RNA interference. In order to clarify the repertoire of cellulose-degrading enzymes and related GH family proteins in D. v. virgifera, we performed next-generation sequencing and assembled transcriptomes from the tissue of three different developmental stages (eggs, neonates, and third instar larvae). Results of this study revealed the presence of seventy-eight genes that potentially encode GH enzymes belonging to eight families (GH45, GH48, GH28, GH16, GH31, GH27, GH5, and GH1). The numbers of GH45 and GH28 genes identified in D. v. virgifera are among the largest in insects where these genes have been identified. Three GH family genes (GH45, GH48, and GH28) are found almost exclusively in two coleopteran superfamilies (Chrysomeloidea and Curculionoidea) among insects, indicating the possibility of their acquisitions by horizontal gene transfer rather than simple vertical transmission from ancestral lineages of insects. Acquisition of GH genes by horizontal gene transfers and subsequent lineage-specific GH gene expansion appear to have played important roles for phytophagous beetles in specializing on particular groups of host plants and in the case of D. v. virgifera, its close association with maize.
Until recently the isolation of microsatellite markers from Lepidoptera has proved troublesome, expensive and time-consuming. Following on from a previous study of Ediths checkerspot butterfly, Euphydryas editha, we developed novel microsatellite markers for the vulnerable marsh fritillary butterfly, E. aurinia. Our goal was to optimize the process in order to reduce both time and cost relative to prevailing techniques. This was accomplished by using a combination of previously developed techniques: in silico mining of a de novo assembled transcriptome sequence, and genotyping the microsatellites found there using an economic method of fluorescently labelling primers.
The primary plant cell wall comprises the most abundant polysaccharides on the Earth and represents a rich source of energy for organisms which have evolved the ability to digest them. Enzymes able to degrade plant cell wall polysaccharides are widely distributed in micro-organisms but are generally absent in animals, although their presence in insects, especially phytophagous beetles from the superfamilies Chrysomeloidea and Curculionoidea, has recently begun to be appreciated. The observed patchy distribution of endogenous genes encoding these enzymes in animals has raised questions about their evolutionary origins. Recent evidence suggests that endogenous plant cell wall degrading enzymes-encoding genes have been acquired by animals through a mechanism known as horizontal gene transfer (HGT). HGT describes how genetic material is moved by means other than vertical inheritance from a parent to an offspring. Here, we provide evidence that the mustard leaf beetle, Phaedon cochleariae, possesses in its genome genes encoding active xylanases from the glycoside hydrolase family 11 (GH11). We also provide evidence that these genes were originally acquired by P. cochleariae from a species of gammaproteobacteria through HGT. This represents the first example of the presence of genes from the GH11 family in animals.
Apoptosis is of crucial importance in the life of multicellular organisms. In holometabolous insects, particularly in Lepidoptera, apoptosis is essential in biological processes such as metamorphosis and defense against pathogens. Apoptosis is tightly regulated and involves many proteins, among them caspases, which play a central role. In mammals, almost 300 targets of caspases have been described, and the expression of more than a hundred proteins has been shown to be altered in apoptotic cells. To date, the molecular pathways controlling apoptosis are poorly understood in Lepidoptera. Here, we used a comparative approach aiming to identify candidate proteins potentially implicated in these pathways. We examined changes occurring, in the proteome of a Helicoverpa armigera-derived cell line, upon induction by actinomycin D. We identified 13 proteins for which the relative abundance was significantly altered. Among these, the abundance of procaspase-1 decreased in apoptotic cells, reflecting its processing into the active form. We characterized its properties by heterologous expression and correlated the observed substrate specificity with changes in caspase activity in HaAM1 cells after induction. We also identified three chaperones as well as several putative pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins. Altogether, these data suggest that apoptotic pathways in Lepidoptera share similarities with the ones described in mammals.
The cell suicide pathway of apoptosis is a necessary event in the life of multicellular organisms. It is involved in many biological processes ranging from development to the immune response. Evolutionarily conserved proteases, called caspases, play a central role in regulating apoptosis. Reception of death stimuli triggers the activation of initiator caspases, which in turn activate the effector caspases. In Lepidoptera, apoptosis is crucial in processes such as metamorphosis or defending against baculovirus infection. The discovery of p35, a baculovirus protein inhibiting caspase activity, has led to the characterization of the first lepidopteran caspase, Sf-Caspase-1. Studies on Sf-Caspase-1 mode of activation suggested that apoptosis in Lepidoptera requires a cascade of caspase activation, as demonstrated in many other species.
The whitefly Trialeurodes vaporariorum is an economically important crop pest in temperate regions that has developed resistance to most classes of insecticides. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying resistance have not been characterised and, to date, progress has been hampered by a lack of nucleotide sequence data for this species. Here, we use pyrosequencing on the Roche 454-FLX platform to produce a substantial and annotated EST dataset. This unigene set will form a critical reference point for quantitation of over-expressed messages via digital transcriptomics.
Transgenic crops producing insecticidal toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are commercially successful in reducing pest damage, yet knowledge of resistance mechanisms that threaten their sustainability is incomplete. Insect resistance to the pore-forming Cry1Ac toxin is correlated with the loss of high-affinity, irreversible binding to the mid-gut membrane, but the genetic factors responsible for this change have been elusive. Mutations in a 12-cadherin-domain protein confer some Cry1Ac resistance but do not block this toxin binding in in vitro assays. We sought to identify mutations in other genes that might be responsible for the loss of binding. We employed a map-based cloning approach using a series of backcrosses with 1,060 progeny to identify a resistance gene in the cotton pest Heliothis virescens that segregated independently from the cadherin mutation. We found an inactivating mutation of the ABC transporter ABCC2 that is genetically linked to Cry1Ac resistance and is correlated with loss of Cry1Ac binding to membrane vesicles. ABC proteins are integral membrane proteins with many functions, including export of toxic molecules from the cell, but have not been implicated in the mode of action of Bt toxins before. The reduction in toxin binding due to the inactivating mutation suggests that ABCC2 is involved in membrane integration of the toxin pore. Our findings suggest that ABC proteins may play a key role in the mode of action of Bt toxins and that ABC protein mutations can confer high levels of resistance that could threaten the continued utilization of Bt-expressing crops. However, such mutations may impose a physiological cost on resistant insects, by reducing export of other toxins such as plant secondary compounds from the cell. This weakness could be exploited to manage this mechanism of Bt resistance in the field.
Plant cell walls are a heterogeneous mixture of polysaccharides and proteins that require a range of different enzymes to degrade them. Plant cell walls are also the primary source of cellulose, the most abundant and useful biopolymer on the planet. Plant cell wall degrading enzymes (PCWDEs) are therefore important in a wide range of biotechnological processes from the production of biofuels and food to waste processing. However, despite the fact that the last common ancestor of all deuterostomes was inferred to be able to digest, or even synthesize, cellulose using endogenous genes, all model insects whose complete genomes have been sequenced lack genes encoding such enzymes. To establish if the apparent "disappearance" of PCWDEs from insects is simply a sampling problem, we used 454 mediated pyrosequencing to scan the gut transcriptomes of beetles that feed on a variety of plant derived diets. By sequencing the transcriptome of five beetles, and surveying publicly available ESTs, we describe 167 new beetle PCWDEs belonging to eight different enzyme families. This survey proves that these enzymes are not only present in non-model insects but that the multigene families that encode them are apparently undergoing complex birth-death dynamics. This reinforces the observation that insects themselves, and not just their microbial symbionts, are a rich source of PCWDEs. Further it emphasises that the apparent absence of genes encoding PCWDEs from model organisms is indeed simply a sampling artefact. Given the huge diversity of beetles alive today, and the diversity of their lifestyles and diets, we predict that beetle guts will emerge as an important new source of enzymes for use in biotechnology.
The insecticidal Cry toxins are pore-forming toxins produced by the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis that disrupt insect-midgut cells. In this work we analyzed the response of two different insect orders, the Lepidopteran Manduca sexta and Dipteran Aedes aegypti to highly specific Cry toxins, Cry1Ab and Cry11Aa, respectively. One pathway activated in different organisms in response to a variety of pore-forming toxins is the mitogen-activated protein kinase p38 pathway (MAPK p38) that activates a complex defense response. We analyzed the MAPK p38 activation by immunodetection of its phosphorylated isoform, and the induction of p38 by RT-PCR, real-time PCR quantitative assays and immunodetection. We show that MAPK p38 is activated at postraductional level after Cry toxin intoxication in both insect orders. We detected the p38 induction at the transcriptional and traductional level, and observed a different response. In these three levels, we found that both insects respond to Cry toxin action but M. sexta responses more strongly than A. aegypti. Gene silencing of MAPK p38 in vivo, resulted in both insect species becoming hypersensitive to Cry toxin action, suggesting that the MAPK p38 pathway is involved in insect defense against Bt Cry toxins. This finding may have biotechnological applications for enhancing the activity of some Bt Cry toxins against specific insect pests.
The cell surfaces of microorganisms display distinct molecular patterns formed from lipopolysaccharides, peptidoglycans, or beta1,3-glucans. Binding of these surfaces by pattern recognition proteins such as beta1,3-glucan recognition proteins (betaGRPs) activates the immune response in arthropods. We identified a 40-kDa beta1,3-glucan-binding protein with sequence similarity to previously characterized lepidopteran betaGRPs from hemolymph, but unlike these it is secreted into the larval gut lumen and is an active beta1,3-glucanase. This glucanase was not detected in hemolymph. Its mRNA is constitutively and predominantly expressed in the midgut and is induced there when larvae feed on a diet containing bacteria. Homologs of this predominantly midgut-expressed gene from many Lepidoptera possess key residues shown to be part of the active site of other glucanases, and form a cluster that is distinct from previously described betaGRPs. In addition, this group includes proteins from insects such as the Anopheles gambiae GNBP subgroup B for which a catalytic role has not been previously suspected. The current domain classification does not distinguish between the catalytic and noncatalytic clades, and should be revised. The noncatalytic betaGRPs may be evolutionarily derived from this newly described enzyme family that continues to function catalytically in digestion and/or pathogen defense.
The microvillar proteome of Manduca sexta larval midguts was analyzed by subjecting brush border membrane vesicles (BBMV) to two different two-dimensional approaches: (i) Anion exchange chromatography followed by SDS-PAGE and (ii) Blue Native-PAGE followed by SDS-PAGE. The first technique was superior to conventional 2-D gel electrophoresis in resolving the most abundant proteins associated with the midgut microvilli. Twenty of them were successfully identified as digestive enzymes, binding targets of the insecticidal Cry1A toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and signal transduction proteins. A homolog of the chlorophyllide A binding protein from the silkworm and several aminopeptidases N represent the most abundant proteins associated with the BBMV. The second technique revealed protein oligomeric complexes associated with midgut microvilli in vivo. Two such complexes contained subunits of the vacuolar ATP synthase complex, and one was an oligomer of the chlorophyllide A binding protein. An additional complex consisted of homo- or hetero-tetramers of three different aminopeptidases N (APNs). As APNs are well-known binding partners of Cry1A toxins, their quaternary structure has implications for Bt toxin mode of action. Both techniques provide a useful complement to conventional 2-D gel electrophoresis in analyzing the complex proteome of the microvillar membrane fraction.
The insect midgut is the primary target site for Bt-derived insecticides and Bt alternatives. However, despite extensive recent study, the precise role and nature of different Bt receptors remains a subject of considerable debate. This problem is fuelled by a lack of understanding of the genes expressed in the insect midgut and their physiological roles. The poplar leaf beetle, Chrysomela tremulae, is an important model for understanding the mode of action of, and resistance to, coleopteran-specific Bt toxins and currently shows the only known naturally occurring case of resistance to Cry3A toxins. Moreover it belongs to the same family as the corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera, an economically important beetle pest and target of hybrid corn expressing Cry3 toxins. Pyrosequencing is a fast and efficient way of defining the transcriptome of specific insect tissues such as the larval midgut. Here we use 454 based pyrosequencing to sample the larval midgut transcriptome of C. tremulae. We identify candidate genes of putative Bt receptors including transcripts encoding cadherin-like proteins, aminopeptidase N and alkaline phosphatase. We also describe a wealth of new transcripts predicting rapidly evolving gene families involved in plant tissue digestion, which have no homologs in the genome of the stored product pest the Red Flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum.
The primary plant cell wall is a complex mixture of polysaccharides and proteins encasing living plant cells. Among these polysaccharides, cellulose is the most abundant and useful biopolymer present on earth. These polysaccharides also represent a rich source of energy for organisms which have evolved the ability to degrade them. A growing body of evidence suggests that phytophagous beetles, mainly species from the superfamilies Chrysomeloidea and Curculionoidea, possess endogenous genes encoding complex and diverse families of so-called plant cell wall degrading enzymes (PCWDEs). The presence of these genes in phytophagous beetles may have been a key element in their success as herbivores. Here, we combined a proteomics approach and transcriptome sequencing to identify PCWDEs present in larval gut contents of the mustard leaf beetle, Phaedon cochleariae.
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