Use of endogenous plant defensive proteins to confer resistance to aphids in crop plants
A liquid artificial diet system, which was suitable for bioassay of added compounds, was developed for the glasshouse potato aphid, Aulacorthum solani. The diet supported normal growth and reproduction of this insect. Once established, the artificial diet bioassay system was used to test potential insecticidal activities of a variety of proteins found naturally occurring in plants. Effects on survival, development and fecundity were measured. The lectin found in snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA) was found to significantly reduce the fecundity of A. solani, in terms of parthenogenetic nymph production, when administered in artificial diets at the 0.1% w/v level. No significant reductions in survival were found, although GNA administered in vitro did appear to slow the development of A. solani. Transgenic potato plants expressing GNA were used in a growth room trial to show that the reduction in fecundity with the in vitro trials could be reproduced in planta. Aphids feeding on the GNA-expressing potatoes had a significantly lower cumulative nymph production than those feeding on non- transformed plants. The transgenic plants had no effect on the survival of A. solani. The GNA-expressing plants were tested in a larger scale glasshouse trial and resulted in a significantly slower buildup of aphids when compared to control potatoes, thus confirming the results of the artificial diet bioassays and in planta growth room trials. Immunohistochemical studies were performed to detect the presence of GNA in the gut lumen of A. solani fed on artificial diet containing 0.1% w/v GNA; the lectin was observed to be selectively concentrated in the region of the epithelial membrane in the stomach, suggesting that binding to surface carbohydrates or glycoproteins was taking place. Binding to the gut surface has been suggested to mediate lectin toxicity in higher animals, and other insects. A synergistic effect was observed with transgenic potatoes expressing a double construct encoding GNA and bean chitinase (BCH); A. solani cumulative nymph production on these plants was significantly reduced compared to aphids feeding on control and GNA-only expressing plants. However, interestingly, BCH-only expressing plants did not significantly affect the fecundity of A. solani, although a slight reduction in nymph production was observed. On the basis of reports in the literature that suggested that chitin-binding lectins were toxic to insects, an attempt to isolate the gene encoding the chitin-binding stinging nettle lectin was made. RNA was extracted from nettle rhizomes and used to prepare a cDNA library. Successful library construction was verified. PGR methods and a primary screen of the library were used in an attempt to locate the gene.