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PLoS One. 2014 Mar 13;9(3):e91337. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091337. eCollection 2014.

The multiple strategies of an insect herbivore to overcome plant cyanogenic glucoside defence.

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  • 1Plant Biochemistry Laboratory and Villum research center 'Plant Plasticity', Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.


Cyanogenic glucosides (CNglcs) are widespread plant defence compounds that release toxic hydrogen cyanide by plant β-glucosidase activity after tissue damage. Specialised insect herbivores have evolved counter strategies and some sequester CNglcs, but the underlying mechanisms to keep CNglcs intact during feeding and digestion are unknown. We show that CNglc-sequestering Zygaena filipendulae larvae combine behavioural, morphological, physiological and biochemical strategies at different time points during feeding and digestion to avoid toxic hydrolysis of the CNglcs present in their Lotus food plant, i.e. cyanogenesis. We found that a high feeding rate limits the time for plant β-glucosidases to hydrolyse CNglcs. Larvae performed leaf-snipping, a minimal disruptive feeding mode that prevents mixing of plant β-glucosidases and CNglcs. Saliva extracts did not inhibit plant cyanogenesis. However, a highly alkaline midgut lumen inhibited the activity of ingested plant β-glucosidases significantly. Moreover, insect β-glucosidases from the saliva and gut tissue did not hydrolyse the CNglcs present in Lotus. The strategies disclosed may also be used by other insect species to overcome CNglc-based plant defence and to sequester these compounds intact.

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