Living With Cyanogenic Plants

Pieris rapae caterpillar

Cabbageworms, Pieris rapae

Caterpillars of the Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae, feed on plants that contain glucosinolates. When herbivores chew plants containing glucosinolates, plant enzymes are released that mix with the glucosinolates  leading to the release of cyanide. Cyanide poisons animals by inhibiting of cellular respiration.   Pieris rapae avoids generating cyanide due to a special enzyme in its gut, the “Nitrile Specifier Protein” that is absent in most caterpillar species. This protein alters glucosinolate metabolism to produce nitriles rather than toxic cyanide. Many of the nitriles produced are “aliphatic” and are eliminated in the frass. This adaptation allows Pieris rapae to not only survive on cabbage but thrive and become a serious pest.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

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