Journal of Pest Science

, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 187–191 | Cite as

Drugs from bugs: the use of insects as a valuable source of transgenes with potential in modern plant protection strategies

  • Andreas Vilcinskas
  • Jürgen Gross


Transgenic expression of antimicrobial peptides in crops has become a novel approach among the strategies to combat phytopathogens in modern plant protection measures. The first antimicrobial transgenes of insect origin, modified cecropins, have been demonstrated to confer resistance of several transgenic cultivars against both bacterial and fungal phytopathogens. Insects represent a promising reservoir for antimicrobial peptides to engineer disease resistant crops. The increasing knowledge about the potent insect innate immunity may help to develop a novel strategy in sustainable agriculture. Several approaches are presently under investigation to prevent evolution of phytopathogens that can overcome disease resistance in transgenic crops expressing an insect antimicrobial peptide. Pathogen-induced expression of insect antimicrobial peptides in crops and combined multiple expression of different antimicrobial peptides along with proteinase inhibitors from insects may prevent selection of resistant phytopathogens. The potential of insect antimicrobial peptides as transgenes to render disease resistant crops has just started to be explored and may provide tools to be ahead of the evolutionary adaptability of phytopathogens.


Antimicrobial peptides Cecropin Defensin Protease inhibitors Phytopathogens 


  1. Banzet N, Latorse MP, Bulet P, Francois E, Derpierre C, Dubald M (2002) Expression of insect cytein-rich antifungal peptides in transgenic tobacco enhances resistance to a fungal disease. Plant Sci 162:995–1006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blum MS (1996) Semiochemical parsimony in the arthropoda. Annu Rev Entomol 41:353–374CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Carlsson A, Nyström T, de Cock H, Bennich H (1998) Attacin—an insect immune protein—binds LPS and triggers the specific inhibition of bacterial outer-membrane protein synthesis. Microbiol 144:2179–2189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cavallarin L, Andreu D, Segundo BS (1998) Cecropin A-derived peptides are potent inhibitors of fungal plant pathogens. Mol Plant Microbe Interact 11:218–227PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chakrabarti A, Ganaphathi T, Mukherjee P, Bapat V (2003) MSI-99, a magainin analogue, imparts enhanced disease resistance in transgenic tobacco and banana. Planta 216:587–596PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Christensen B, Fink J, Merrifield R, Mauzerall D (1988) Channel-forming properties of cecropins and related compounds incorporated into planar lipid membranes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 85:5072–5076PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark B, Phillips T, Coats J (2005) Environmental fate and effects of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins from transgenic crops: a review. J Agric Food Chem 53:4643–4653CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Collens J, Lee D, Seeman A, Curtis W (2004) Development of auxotrophic Agrobacterium tumefaciens for gene transfer in plant tissue culture. Biotechnol Prog 20:890–896CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. DeGray G, Rajasekaran K, Smith F, Sanford J, Daniell H (2001) Expression of an antimicrobial peptide via the chloroplast genome to control phytopathogenic bacteria and fungi. Plant Physiol 127:852–862CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Ekengren S, Hultmark D (1999) Drosophila cecropin as an antifungal agent. Insect Biochem Mol Biol 29:965–972PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fehlbaum P, Bulet P, Michaut L, Lagueux M, Broekaert W, Hetru C, Hoffann J (1994) Insect immunity: septic injury of Drosophila induces the synthesis of a potent antifungal peptide with sequence homology to plant defensins. J Biol Chem 269:33159–33163PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Feld BK, Pasteels JM, Boland W (2001) Phaedon cochleariae and Gastrophysa viridula (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) produce defensive iridoid monoterpenes de novo and are able to sequester glycosidically bound terpenoid precursors. Chemoecology 11:191–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Florack D, Allefs S, Bollen R, Bosch D, Visser B, Stiekema W (1995) Expression of giant silk moth cecropin B genes in tobacco. Transgenic Res 4:132–141CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gao A, Hakimi S, Mittanck C, Wu Y, Woerner B, Stark D, Shah D, Liang J, Rommens C (2000) Fungal pathogen protection in potato by expression of a plant defensin peptide. Nat Biotechnol 18:1307–1310CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gross J, Müller C, Vilcinskas A, Hilker M (1998) Antimicrobial activity of exocrine glandular secretions, hemolymph and larval regurgitate of the mustard leaf beetle Phaedon cochleariae. J Invertbr Pathol 72:296–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gross J, Podsiadlowski L, Hilker M (2002) Antimicrobial activity of the exocrine glandular secretion of Chrysomela larvae. J Chem Ecol 28(2):317–331CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hancock R, Lehrer R (1998) Cationic peptides: a new source of antibiotics. Trends Biotech 16:82–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hightower R, Baden C, Penzes E, Dunsmuir P (1994) The expression of cecropin peptide in transgenic tobacco does not confer resistance to Pseudomonas syringae pv. tabaci. Plant Cell Rep 13:295–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hoffmann J (2003) The immune response of Drosophila. Nature 426:33–38CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Huang Y, Nordeen R, Di M, Owens L, McBeath J (1997) Expression of engineered cecropin gene cassette in transgenic tobacco plants confers resistance to Pseudomonas syringae pv. tabaci. Phytopathol 87:494–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hultmark D, Engström A, Bennich H, Kapur R, Boman HG (1982) Insect immunity: isolation and structure of cecropin D and four minor antibacterial components from Cecropia pupae. Eur J Biochem 127:207–217CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Hultmark D, Engstrom A, Andersson K, Steiner H, Bennich H, Boman HG (1983) Insect immunity. Attacins, a family of antibacterial proteins from Hyalophora cecropia. EMBO J 2:571–576PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Jaynes JM, Xanthopoulos KG, Destefano-Beltran L, Dodds JH (1987) Increasing bacterial resistance in plants utilizing genes from insects. Bioessays 6:263–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jaynes JM, Nagpala P, Destefano-Beltran L, Huang JH, Kim JH, Denney T, Cetiner S (1993) Expression of a cecropin B lytic peptide analogue in transgenic tobacco confers enhanced resistance to bacterial wilt caused by Pseudomonas solanaceum. Plant Sci 89:43–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ko K, Norelli J, Reynoird J-P, Boresjza-Wysocka E, Brown S, Aldwinckle HS (2000) Effect of untranslated leader sequence of AMV RNA 4 and signal peptide of pathogenesis-related protein 1b on attacin gene expression, and resistance to fire blight in transgenic apple. Biotechn Letters 22:373–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kogel KH, Langen G (2005) Induced disease resistance and gene expression in cereals. Cell Microbiol 7:1555–1564CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Kylsten P, Samakovlis C, Hultmark D (1990) The cecropin locus in Drosophila; a compact gene cluster involved in the response to infection. EMBO J 9:217–224PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Lamberty M, Ades S, Uttenweiler J, Brookhart G, Bushey D, Hoffmann J, Bulet P (1999) Insect immunity: isolation from the lepidopteran Heliothis virescens of a novel insect defensin with potent antifungal activity. J Biol Chem 274:9320–9326CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Lockey T, Ourth D (1995) Formation of pores in Escherichia coli cell membranes by a cecropin isolated from hemolymph of Heliothis virescens larvae. Eur J Biochem 236:263–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Marillonet S, Thoeringer C, Kandzia R, Klimyuk V, Gleba Y (2005) Systemic Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transfection of viral replicons for efficient transient expression in plants. Nat Biotechnol 23:718–723CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Marshall SH, Arenas G (2003) Antimicrobial peptides: a natural alternative to chemical antibiotics and a potential for applied biotechnology. Elect J Biotech 6(2):271–284Google Scholar
  32. Mehlo L, Gahakwa D, Nghia P, Loc N, Capell T, Gatehouse J, Gatehouse A, Christou P (2005) An alternative strategy for sustainable pest resistance in genetically enhanced crops. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102:7812–7816CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Meylaers K, Cerstianaens A, Vierstraete E, Baggerman G, Michiels C, De Loof A, Schoofs L (2003) Antimicrobial compounds of low molecular mass are constitutively present in insects: characterisation of β-alanyl-tyrosine. Curr Pharm Des 9:159–174CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Mills D, Hammerschlag F, Nordeen R, Owens L (1994) Evidence for the breakdown of cecropin B by proteinases in the intercellular fluid of peach leaves. Plant Sci 104:17–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moffat AS (2001) Finding new ways to fight plant diseases. Science 292:2270–2273CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Osusky M, Zhou G, Osuska L, Hancock RE, Kay W, Misra S (2000) Transgenic plants expressing cationic peptide chimeras exhibit broad-spectrum resistance to phytopathogens. Nat Biotechnol 18:1162–1166CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Owens L, Heutte T (1995) A single amino acid substitution in the antimicrobial defense protein cecropin B is associated with diminished degradation by leaf intercellular fluid. Mol Plant Microbe Interact 10:525–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Powell W, Catranis C, Maynard C (1995) Synthetic antimicrobial peptide design. Mol Plant Microbe Interact 8:792–794PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Reynoird J, Mourgues F, Norelli J, Aldwinckle HS, Brisset M, Chevreau E (1999) First evidence for differences in fire blight resistance among transgenic pear clones expressing attacin gene. Plant Sci 149:23–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schnepf E, Crickmore N, Van Rie J, Lereclus D, Baum J, Feitelson J, Zeigler D, Dean D (1998) Bacillus thuringiensis and its pesticidal crystal proteins. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev 62:775–806PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Schuhmann B, Seitz V, Vilcinskas A, Podsiadlowski L (2003) Cloning and expression of Gallerimycin, an antifungal peptide expressed in immune response of greater wax moth larvae, Galleria mellonella. Arch Insect Biochem Physiol 53:125–133CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Schulz S, Gross J, Hilker M (1997) Origin of the defensive secretion of the leaf beetle Chrysomela lapponica. Tetrahedron 53:9203–9212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Seitz V, Clermont A, Wedde M, Hummel M, Vilcinskas A, Schlatterer K, Podsiadlowski L (2003) Identification of immunorelevant genes from greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella) by a subtractive hybridization approach. Dev Comp Immunol 27:207–215CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Sharma A, Sharma R, Imamura M, Yamakawa M, Machii H (2000) Transgenic expression of cecropin B, an antibacterial peptide from Bombyx mori, confers enhanced resistance to bacterial leaf blight in rice. FEBS Lett 484:7–11CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Sharma H, Sharma K, Crouch J (2005) The utility and management of transgenic plants with Bacillus thuringiensis genes for protection from pests. Crit Rev Plant Sci 23:47–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Steiner H, Andreu D, Merrifield R (1988) Binding and action of cecropin and cecropin analogues: antibacterial peptides from insects. Biochim Biophys Acta 939:260–266PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Theis T, Stahl U (2004) Antifungal proteins: targets, mechanisms and prospective applications. Cell Mol Life Sci 61:437–455PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Thevissen K, Warnecke DC, Francois I, Leipelt M, Heinz E, Ott C, Zähringer U, Thomma B, Ferket K, Cammue B (2004) Defensins from insects and plants interact with fungal glucosylceramides. J Biol Chem 279:3900–3905CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Turpen T, Turpen A, Weinzettl N, Kumagani M, Dawson W (1993) Transfection of whole plants from wounds inoculated with Agrobacterium tumefaciens containing cDNA of tobacco mosaic virus. J Virol Methods 42:227–239CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Vilcinskas A, Matha V (1997) Antimycotic activity of lysozyme and its contribution to antifungal humoral defence reactions in Galleria mellonella. Anim Biol 6:19–29Google Scholar
  51. Vilcinskas A, Götz P (1999) Parasitic fungi and their interaction with the insect immune system. Adv Parasitol 43:267–313Google Scholar
  52. Yevtushenko D, Sidorov VA, Romero R, Kay WW, Misra S (2004) Wound-inducible promoter from poplar is responsive to fungal infection in transgenic potato. Plant Sci 167:715–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Yevtushenko D, Romero R, Forward B, Hancock R, Kay W, Misra S (2005) Pathogen-induced expression of a cecropin A-mellitin antimicrobial peptide gene confers antifungal resistance in transgenic tobacco. J Exp Bot 56:1685–1695CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Zasloff M (2002) Antimicrobial peptides of multicellular organisms. Nature 415:389–395CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Phytopathology and Applied ZoologyJustus-Liebig UniversityGießenGermany
  2. 2.Federal Biological Research Centre for Agriculture and ForestryInstitute for Plant Protection in Fruit CropsDossenheimGermany

Personalised recommendations