Plants respond to insect herbivory through the production of biochemicals that function as either direct defenses or indirect defenses via the attraction of natural enemies. While attack by closely related insect pests can result in distinctive levels of induced plant defenses, precise biochemical mechanisms responsible for differing responses remain largely unknown. Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) responds to Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) herbivory through the detection of fragments of chloroplastic ATP synthase γ-subunit proteins, termed inceptin-related peptides, present in larval oral secretions (OS). In contrast to generalists like Fall armyworm, OS of the legume-specializing velvetbean caterpillar (VBC; Anticarsia gemmatalis) do not elicit ethylene production and demonstrate significantly lower induced volatile emission in direct herbivory comparisons. Unlike all other Lepidoptera OS examined, which preferentially contain inceptin (Vu-In; +ICDINGVCVDA-), VBC OS contain predominantly a C-terminal truncated peptide, Vu-In-A (+ICDINGVCVD-). Vu-In-A is both inactive and functions as a potent naturally occurring antagonist of Vu-In-induced responses. To block antagonist production, amino acid substitutions at the C terminus were screened for differences in VBC gut proteolysis. A valine-substituted peptide (Vu-InΔV; +ICDINGVCVDV-) retaining full elicitor activity was found to accumulate in VBC OS. Compared with the native polypeptide, VBC that previously ingested 500 pmol of the valine-modified chloroplastic ATP synthase γ-subunit precursor elicited significantly stronger plant responses in herbivory assays. We demonstrate that a specialist herbivore minimizes the activation of defenses by converting an elicitor into an antagonist effector and identify an amino acid substitution that recovers these induced plant defenses to a level observed with generalist herbivores.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Plant Science