, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 342-345

Surfactants: their role in preventing the precipitation of proteins by tannins in insect guts

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Much more tannic acid or pin oak tannin is required to precipitate the abundant leaf protein, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBPC), from Manduca sexta gut fluid adjusted to pH 6.5 than is required to precipitate this protein from an aqueous buffer at the same pH. This finding demonstrates that some characteristic of M. sexta gut fluid, in addition to its basicity, counteracts the potential of tannins to precipitate ingested proteins. Gut fluid of M. sexta has a surface tension of 36–39 dynes/cm, indicating the presence of surfactants. Lysolecithin and linoleoylglycine, surfactants known to be present in insect gut fluids, also interfere with the precipitation of RuBPC by tannins at pH 6.5. It is concluded that detergency is a widespread property of insect gut fluids that counteracts the potential of tannins to precipitate die ary proteins, and it is argued that there is no longer any justification for continuing to refer to tannins as digestibility-reducing-substances. Finding that there has been no formidable barrier to the evolution of mechanisms that counter a generalized antidigestive action by tannins is difficult to reconcile with the idea that reduced digestibility is an evolved anti-herbivore adaptation of apparent plants.