Aggregation Pheromone Biosynthesis and Engineering in Plants for Stinkbug Pest Management
Lehner, Bryan W.
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Stinkbugs (Pentatomidae) and other agricultural pests such as bark beetles and flea beetles are known to synthesize terpenoids as aggregation pheromones. Knowledge of the genes and enzymes involved in pheromone biosynthesis may allow engineering of pheromone biosynthetic pathways in plants to develop new forms of trap crops and agricultural practices for pest management. The harlequin bug, Murgantia histrionica, a specialist pest on crucifer crops, produces the sesquiterpene, murgantiol, as a male-specific aggregation pheromone. Similarly, the southern green stink bug, Nezara viridula, a generalist pest worldwide on soybean and other crops, releases sesquiterpene cis-/trans-(Z)-α-bisabolene epoxides as male-specific aggregation pheromone. In both species, enzymes called terpene synthases (TPSs) synthesize precursors of the aggregation pheromones, which are sesquipiperitol and (Z)-α-bisabolene as the precursor of murgantiol and cis-/trans-(Z)-α-bisabolene epoxide, respectively. We hypothesized that enzymes in the family of cytochrome P450 monooxygenases are involved in the conversion of these precursors to the final epoxide products. This study investigated the tissue specificity and sequence of these conversions by performing crude enzyme assays with protein extracts from male tissues. Furthermore, candidate P450 genes were selected by RNA-sequencing and co-expression analysis and the corresponding recombinant proteins tested for enzyme activity. To engineer the pheromone biosynthetic enzymes in plants, transient expression of the TPSs of both stink bugs was performed in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves. Both sesquipiperitol and (Z)-α-bisabolene were found to be produced and emitted from inoculated N. benthamiana leaves. Future work will implement stable transformation to engineer murgantiol biosynthesis in crucifer trap crops and develop similar approaches for pheromone engineering of other agricultural pests.
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