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Plant Cell Environ. 2006 Aug;29(8):1545-70.

Conifer defence against insects: microarray gene expression profiling of Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) induced by mechanical wounding or feeding by spruce budworms (Choristoneura occidentalis) or white pine weevils (Pissodes strobi) reveals large-scale changes of the host transcriptome.

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Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


Conifers are resistant to attack from a large number of potential herbivores or pathogens. Previous molecular and biochemical characterization of selected conifer defence systems support a model of multigenic, constitutive and induced defences that act on invading insects via physical, chemical, biochemical or ecological (multitrophic) mechanisms. However, the genomic foundation of the complex defence and resistance mechanisms of conifers is largely unknown. As part of a genomics strategy to characterize inducible defences and possible resistance mechanisms of conifers against insect herbivory, we developed a cDNA microarray building upon a new spruce (Picea spp.) expressed sequence tag resource. This first-generation spruce cDNA microarray contains 9720 cDNA elements representing c. 5500 unique genes. We used this array to monitor gene expression in Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) bark in response to herbivory by white pine weevils (Pissodes strobi, Curculionidae) or wounding, and in young shoot tips in response to western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis, Lepidopterae) feeding. Weevils are stem-boring insects that feed on phloem, while budworms are foliage feeding larvae that consume needles and young shoot tips. Both insect species and wounding treatment caused substantial changes of the host plant transcriptome detected in each case by differential gene expression of several thousand array elements at 1 or 2 d after the onset of treatment. Overall, there was considerable overlap among differentially expressed gene sets from these three stress treatments. Functional classification of the induced transcripts revealed genes with roles in general plant defence, octadecanoid and ethylene signalling, transport, secondary metabolism, and transcriptional regulation. Several genes involved in primary metabolic processes such as photosynthesis were down-regulated upon insect feeding or wounding, fitting with the concept of dynamic resource allocation in plant defence. Refined expression analysis using gene-specific primers and real-time PCR for selected transcripts was in agreement with microarray results for most genes tested. This study provides the first large-scale survey of insect-induced defence transcripts in a gymnosperm and provides a platform for functional investigation of plant-insect interactions in spruce. Induction of spruce genes of octadecanoid and ethylene signalling, terpenoid biosynthesis, and phenolic secondary metabolism are discussed in more detail.

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