Chrysomelid leaf beetles use chemical defenses to overcome predatory attack and microbial infestation. Larvae of Chrysomela lapponica that feed on willow sequester plant-derived salicin and other leaf alcohol glucosides, which are modified in their defensive glands to bioactive compounds. Salicin is converted into salicylaldehyde by a consecutive action of a β-glucosidase and salicyl alcohol oxidase (SAO). The other leaf alcohol glucosides are not oxidized, but are deglucosylated and esterified with isobutyric- and 2-methylbutyric acid. Like some other closely related Chrysomela species, certain populations of C. lapponica shift host plants from willow to salicin-free birch. The only striking difference between willow feeders and birch feeders in terms of chemical defense is the lack of salicylaldehyde formation. To clarify the impact of host plant shifts on SAO activity, we identified and compared this enzyme by cloning, expression, and functional testing in a willow-feeding and birch-feeding population of C. lapponica. Although the birch feeders still demonstrated defensive gland-specific expression, their SAO mRNA levels were 1,000-fold lower, and the SAO enzyme was nonfunctional. Obviously, the loss of catalytic function of the SAO of birch-adapted larvae is fixed at the transcriptional, translational, and enzyme levels, thus avoiding costly expression of a highly abundant protein that is not required in the birch feeders.
Natural Sciences in General