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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Reveal How Fall Armyworms Survive Plants' Defense

October 8, 2014

Scientists at Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany revealed how fall armyworms survive plants' defense against pests.

In North and South America, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) cause massive damage in maize fields. Crops like maize attach sugars to chemical defenses known as benzoxazinoids to protect themselves from being poisoned by their own protective agents. When an insect pest attacks the plant, the plant enzyme detaches the sugar to deploy the active toxin. Scientists Daniel Giddings Vassão and colleagues discovered why this strategy does not work against fall armyworms. They found that after the plant detaches the sugar, the insect reattaches the sugar but in opposite stereochemical configuration. Thus, the new configuration prevents the cleaving of the plant enzyme and the sugar, failing to generate the toxin for defense.

The next step of the researchers is to identify the enzymes and genes involved in the detoxification process in the fall armyworm. They will also search for equivalent enzymes in related species.

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