Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 11, pp 965–974 | Cite as

The Green Gut: Chlorophyll Degradation in the Gut of Spodoptera littoralis

  • Amarsanaa Badgaa
  • Rita Büchler
  • Natalie Wielsch
  • Marie Walde
  • Rainer Heintzmann
  • Yannik Pauchet
  • Ales Svatos
  • Kerstin Ploss
  • Wilhelm BolandEmail author


Chlorophylls, the most prominent natural pigments, are part of the daily diet of herbivorous insects. The spectrum of ingested and digested chlorophyll metabolites compares well to the pattern of early chlorophyll-degradation products in senescent plants. Intact chlorophyll is rapidly degraded by proteins in the front- and midgut. Unlike plants, insects convert both chlorophyll a and b into the corresponding catabolites. MALDI-TOF/MS imaging allowed monitoring the distribution of the chlorophyll catabolites along the gut of Spodoptera littoralis larvae. The chlorophyll degradation in the fore- and mid-gut is strongly pH dependent, and requires alkaline conditions. Using LC-MS/MS analysis we identified a lipocalin-type protein in the intestinal fluid of S. littoralis homolog to the chlorophyllide a binding protein from Bombyx mori. Widefield and high-resolution autofluorescence microscopy revealed that the brush border membranes are covered with the chlorophyllide binding protein tightly bound via its GPI-anchor to the gut membrane. A function in defense against gut microbes is discussed.


Chlorophyll Chlorophyll degradation Lepidopterans Chlorophyllide binding protein Imaging of chlorophyll catabolites Pheophorbide Pyropheophorbide Larval gut imaging 



We thank Angelika Berg for taking care of the Lima beans and insects, and Dr. Christian Paetz for help with NMR.

Supplementary material

10886_2015_636_MOESM1_ESM.doc (6.9 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 7027 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amarsanaa Badgaa
    • 1
    • 4
  • Rita Büchler
    • 1
  • Natalie Wielsch
    • 1
  • Marie Walde
    • 2
  • Rainer Heintzmann
    • 2
    • 3
  • Yannik Pauchet
    • 1
  • Ales Svatos
    • 1
  • Kerstin Ploss
    • 1
  • Wilhelm Boland
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Chemical EcologyJenaGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Physical ChemistryFriedrich-Schiller-Universität JenaJenaGermany
  3. 3.Leibniz Institut of Photonic Technology (IPHT)JenaGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Chemistry and Chemical TechnologyMongolian Academy of SciencesUlaanbataarMongolia

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