Enterococcal symbionts of caterpillars facilitate the utilization of a suboptimal diet

Bosheng Chen, Charles J. Mason, Michelle Peiffer, Dayu Zhang, Yongqi Shao, Gary W. Felton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Bacterial gut symbionts of insect herbivores can impact their host through different mechanisms. However, in most lepidopteran systems we lack experimental examples to explain how specific members of the gut bacterial community influence their host. We used fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) as a model system to address this objective. We implemented axenic and gnotobiotic techniques using two semi-artificial diets with pinto bean and wheat germ-based components. Following an initial screen of bacterial isolates representing different genera, larvae inoculated with Enterococcus FAW 2–1 exhibited increased body mass on the pinto bean diet, but not on the wheat germ diet. We conducted a systematic bioassay screening of Enterococcus isolated from fall armyworm, revealing they had divergent effects on the hosts’ usage pinto bean diet, even among phylogenetically similar isolates. Dilution of the pinto bean diet revealed that larvae performed better on less-concentrated diets, suggesting the presence of a potential toxin. Collectively, these results demonstrate that some gut microorganisms of lepidopterans can benefit the host, but the dietary context is key towards understanding the direction of the response and magnitude of the effect. We provide evidence that gut microorganisms may play a wider role in mediating feeding breadth in lepidopteran pests, but overall impacts could be related to the environmental stress and the metabolic potentials of the microorganisms inhabiting the gut.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104369
JournalJournal of Insect Physiology
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science


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