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J Chem Ecol. 2008 Feb;34(2):179-88. doi: 10.1007/s10886-007-9416-9. Epub 2008 Jan 31.

Protected by fumigants: beetle perfumes in antimicrobial defense.

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Institute of Phytopathology and Applied Zoology, Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Heinrich-Buff-Ring 26-32, Giessen, Germany.


Beetles share with other eukaryotes an innate immune system that mediates endogenous defense against pathogens. In addition, larvae of some taxa produce fluid exocrine secretions that contain antimicrobial compounds. In this paper, we provide evidence that larvae of the brassy willow leaf beetle Phratora vitellinae constitutively release volatile glandular secretions that combat pathogens in their microenvironment. We identified salicylaldehyde as the major component of their enveloping perfume cloud, which is emitted by furrow-shaped openings of larval glandular reservoirs and which inhibits in vitro the growth of the bacterial entomopathogen Bacillus thuringiensis. The suggested role of salicylaldehyde as a fumigant in exogenous antimicrobial defense was confirmed in vivo by its removal from glandular reservoirs. This resulted in an enhanced susceptibility of the larvae to infection with the fungal entomopathogens Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae. Consequently, we established the hypothesis that antimicrobial defense in beetles can be expanded beyond innate immunity to include external disinfection of their microenvironment, and we report for the first time the contribution of fumigants to antimicrobial defense in animals.

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