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Caterpillar saliva beats plant defences

A new weapon emerges in the evolutionary arms race between plants and herbivores.


Blood-feeding arthropods secrete special salivary proteins that suppress the defensive reaction they induce in their hosts1,2. This is in contrast to herbivores, which are thought to be helpless victims of plant defences elicited by their oral secretions3,4. On the basis of the finding that caterpillar regurgitant can reduce the amount of toxic nicotine released by the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum5, we investigate here whether specific salivary components from the caterpillar Helicoverpa zea might be responsible for this suppression. We find that the enzyme glucose oxidase counteracts the production of nicotine induced by the caterpillar feeding on the plant.

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Figure 1: Ablation of the caterpillar (Helicoverpa zea) spinneret to prevent production of saliva.
Figure 2: Effect of caterpillar saliva on induced resistance in tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum).


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Correspondence to Gary W. Felton.

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Musser, R., Hum-Musser, S., Eichenseer, H. et al. Caterpillar saliva beats plant defences. Nature 416, 599–600 (2002).

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