In residence at
Pr David Giron
Insect reprogrammers: From strategies for manipulating plants to agriculture
Plants constitute key nutritional resources for many organisms on Earth and protect these resources by enhancing interactions with mutualists while reducing interactions with antagonists. Interactions with different members of their ecological community can lead to a profound metabolic reconfiguration of the plant’s physiology, which favours beneficial organisms like symbionts and harms antagonists like pathogens or herbivores. Among the insect herbivores that attack plants, some species have evolved a peculiar feeding strategy that allows them to hijack the plant’s machinery for their own benefit. By ‘reprogramming' the plant genome, the insect forces the plant to create specialized nutritional resources that benefit the insect at the expense of the plant’s growth and reproduction. This attack strategy can have serious economic consequences in agroecosystems by reducing crop yield or quality. Mechanisms underlying this attack strategy and the plant’s options for effective defense remain largely unknown.
The research focuses on: 1. physiological modifications induced in susceptible and resistant plants; 2. changes in phytohormones that accompany these modifications; and 3. secreted salivary effectors that are produced by insect 'reprogrammers' to suppress defense responses and alter plant metabolic processes. Feeding strategies of a number of different plant-manipulating insects will be compared using an evolutionary framework to discover similarities and differences in their strategies for exploiting plants. Strategies used by insect ‘reprogrammers’ will also be compared to those of antagonistic microbes and nematodes that ‘reprogram’ the plant.
Knowledge gained from this research collaboration will contribute to new ideas for using natural plant traits to protect agricultural plants from biotic stress.