A beta-glucosidase of an insect herbivore determines both toxicity and deterrence of a dandelion defense metabolite

Huber, Meret; Roder, Thomas; Irmisch, Sandra; Riedel, Alexander; Gablenz, Saskia; Fricke, Julia; Rahfeld, Peter; Reichelt, Michael; Paetz, Christian; Liechti, Nicole; Hu, Lingfei; Bont, Zoe; Ye, Meng; Huang, Wei; Robert, Christelle A. M.; Gershenzon, Jonathan; Erb, Matthias (2021). A beta-glucosidase of an insect herbivore determines both toxicity and deterrence of a dandelion defense metabolite. eLife, 10(68642) eLife Sciences Publications 10.7554/eLife.68642

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Gut enzymes can metabolize plant defense compounds and thereby affect the growth and fitness of insect herbivores. Whether these enzymes also influence feeding preference is largely unknown. We studied the metabolization of taraxinic acid beta-D-glucopyranosyl ester (TA-G), a sesquiterpene lactone of the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) that deters its major root herbivore, the common cockchafer larva (Melolontha melolontha). We have demonstrated that TA-G is rapidly deglucosylated and conjugated to glutathione in the insect gut. A broad-spectrum M. melolontha beta-glucosidase, Mm_bGlc17, is sufficient and necessary for TA-G deglucosylation. Using cross-species RNA interference, we have shown that Mm_bGlc17 reduces TA-G toxicity. Furthermore, Mm_bGlc17 is required for the preference of M. melolontha larvae for TA-G-deficient plants. Thus, herbivore metabolism modulates both the toxicity and deterrence of a plant defense compound. Our work illustrates the multifaceted roles of insect digestive enzymes as mediators of plant-herbivore interactions. eLife digest Plants produce certain substances to fend off attackers like plant-feeding insects. To stop these compounds from damaging their own cells, plants often attach sugar molecules to them. When an insect tries to eat the plant, the plant removes the stabilizing sugar, `activating' the compounds and making them toxic or foul-tasting. Curiously, some insects remove the sugar themselves, but it is unclear what consequences this has, especially for insect behavior. Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale, make high concentrations of a sugar-containing defense compound in their roots called taraxinic acid beta-D-glucopyranosyl ester, or TA-G for short. TA-G deters the larvae of the Maybug - a pest also known as the common cockchafer or the doodlebug - from eating dandelion roots. When Maybug larvae do eat TA-G, it is found in their systems without its sugar. However, it is unclear whether it is the plant or the larva that removes the sugar. A second open question is how the sugar removal process affects the behavior of the Maybug larvae. Using chemical analysis and genetic manipulation, Huber et al. investigated what happens when Maybug larvae eat TA-G. This revealed that the acidity levels in the larvae's digestive system deactivate the proteins from the dandelion that would normally remove the sugar from TA-G. However, rather than leaving the compound intact, larvae remove the sugar from TA-G themselves. They do this using a digestive enzyme, known as a beta-glucosidase, that cuts through sugar. Removing the sugar from TA-G made the compound less toxic, allowing the larvae to grow bigger, but it also increased TA-G's deterrent effects, making the larvae less likely to eat the roots. Any organism that eats plants, including humans, must deal with chemicals like TA-G in their food. Once inside the body, enzymes can change these chemicals, altering their effects. This happens with many medicines, too. In the future, it might be possible to design compounds that activate only in certain species, or under certain conditions. Further studies in different systems may aid the development of new methods of pest control, or new drug treatments.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Biotic Interactions
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Roder, Thomas, Fricke, Julia, Liechti, Nicole, Hu, Lingfei, Bont, Zoe Kalina, Ye, Meng, Huang, Wei, Robert, Christelle Aurélie Maud, Erb, Matthias


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




eLife Sciences Publications




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

09 Nov 2021 10:56

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:53

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Melolontha melolontha; Taraxacum officinale; plant defense; root herbivore; sesquiterpene lactone; beta-glucosidase; Other





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