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Nature. 2001 May 10;411(6834):186-9.

Host recognition by the tobacco hornworm is mediated by a host plant compound.

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Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


It is generally believed that animals make decisions about the selection of mates, kin or food on the basis of pre-constructed recognition templates. These templates can be innate or acquired through experience. An example of an acquired template is the feeding preference exhibited by larvae of the moth, Manduca sexta. Naive hatchlings will feed and grow successfully on many different plants or artificial diets, but once they have fed on a natural host they become specialist feeders. Here we show that the induced feeding preference of M. sexta involves the formation of a template to a steroidal glycoside, indioside D, that is present in solanaceous foliage. This compound is both necessary and sufficient to maintain the induced feeding preference. The induction of host plant specificity is at least partly due to a tuning of taste receptors to indioside D. The taste receptors of larvae fed on host plants show an enhanced response to indioside D as compared with other plant compounds tested.

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