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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Nov 10;95(23):13971-5.

Concerted biosynthesis of an insect elicitor of plant volatiles.

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  • 1U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services, Center for Medical Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, 1700 Southwest 23rd Drive, Gainesville, FL 32608, USA.


A variety of agricultural plant species, including corn, respond to insect herbivore damage by releasing large quantities of volatile compounds and, as a result, become highly attractive to parasitic wasps that attack the herbivores. An elicitor of plant volatiles, N-(17-hydroxylinolenoyl)-L-glutamine, named volicitin and isolated from beet armyworm caterpillars, is a key component in plant recognition of damage from insect herbivory. Chemical analysis of the oral secretion from beet armyworms that have fed on 13C-labeled corn seedlings established that the fatty acid portion of volicitin is plant derived whereas the 17-hydroxylation reaction and the conjugation with glutamine are carried out by the caterpillar by using glutamine of insect origin. Ironically, these insect-catalyzed chemical modifications to linolenic acid are critical for the biological activity that triggers the release of plant volatiles, which in turn attract natural enemies of the caterpillar.

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