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Biol Chem. 2000 Aug;381(8):755-62.

Gut bacteria may be involved in interactions between plants, herbivores and their predators: microbial biosynthesis of N-acylglutamine surfactants as elicitors of plant volatiles.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Okologie, Jena, Germany.


N-Acylamino acids are dominant and widespread constituents of insect oral secretions (regurgitants), serving the insect as biosurfactants in the digestive process. During feeding the conjugates may be introduced into damaged leaves and contribute there to the elicitation of plant defenses such as the induction of volatile biosynthesis. From gut segments of Spodoptera exigua, Mamestra brassicae and Agrotis segetum 23 bacterial strains were isolated, ten of which were able to synthesise typical lepidopteran N-acylamino acids from externally added precursors. Four strains, Providencia rettgeri, Ochrobactrum spec., Myroides odoratus and Acinetobacter sp. genospecies 11 were identified on the basis of their 16 S rDNA. The organisms displayed a very broad substrate tolerance, since fatty acids of different chain length and different degree of saturation were converted into N-acylamino acids. Moreover, most of the proteinogenic amino acids, but not glutamic and aspartic acid, were used as substrates. The dominant occurrence of fatty acids conjugated with glutamine may result from a preferred transport of glutamine from the hemolymph into the gut of the insects. The involvement of bacteria in the biosynthesis of compounds which play a pivotal role in the interaction of plants, herbivores and their predators adds a new trophic level to this complex network of interactions. Due to their short generation cycle and the ease of adaptation endosymbiontic bacteria may have an outstanding importance for the coevolution of plant-insect interactions.

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