2023-06-19 Seminar Report

We had the pleasure to have Dr. Yu Okamura (The University of Tokyo) as an invited speaker of our Biology seminar of May 25th, 2023. Dr. Okamura introduced us to the mechanism that allow herbivory of Pieris butterflies on Brassicaceae plants (plants of the group of the mustard). Brassicaceae, as well as most plants, will defend from herbivores by producing chemical compounds that can be lethal, but at the same time, insects will need to evolve strategies to elude the chemical defenses of the plants. This relationship leads to an interesting coevolutionary pathway that has not been widely explored from the genomic perspective. In his study system, Dr. Okamura has performed experiments to research how the toxic chemical compounds derived from glucosinolates of plants are eluted by their butterfly herbivores thanks to the expression of two specific genes that produce proteins that decompose the glocusinolates into non-lethal metabolites. One of the two genes (NSP gene) is known to be expressed in most Pieris butterflies that feed on Brassicaceae plants, but in his research, Dr. Okamura found that another gene (MA gene) is complementary of the effect of the NSP gene. Using genome editing techniques (CRISPR/Cas9), Dr. Okamura showed that the absence of NSP or MA genes can be lethal for herbivores. It is concluded that, in combination, NSP and MA genes are necessary for Pieris butterflies to maintain herbivory on a wide variety of plants in the Brassicacae family.

Reported by José Said Gutiérrez-Ortega

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