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Soldier Beetles Synthesize Fatty Acids For Defense

Scientists have discovered the three genes that combine to provide soldier beetles with their potent predator defense system.

| November 12, 2012 | In the Lab

AsianScientist (Nov. 12, 2012) – New antibiotic and anti-cancer chemicals may one day be synthesized, following CSIRO Australia’s discovery of the three genes that combine to provide soldier beetles with their potent predator defense system.

Details on the genes have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

“For the first time, our team has been able to isolate and replicate the three genes that combine to make the potent fatty acid that soldier beetles secrete to ward off predators and infection,” said CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences research leader Dr. Victoria Haritos.

“This discovery is important because it opens a new way for the unusual fatty acid to be synthesized for potential antibiotic, anti-cancer, or other industrial purposes,” she added.

Soldier beetles exude a white viscous fluid from their glands to repel potential attacks from predators, as well as in a wax form to protect against infection.

The team found this fluid contains an exotic fatty acid called dihydromatricaria acid, or DHMA, which is one of a group called polyynes that have known anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.

While DHMA and similar polyyne fatty acids are found in a wide variety of plants, fungi, liverworts, mosses, marine sponges, and algae, these compounds have proved very difficult to manufacture using conventional chemical processes.

Haritos and colleagues, however, developed a new method to reproduce these polyyne chemicals under mild conditions in yeast. They also discovered that the source of DHMA was not from the beetles’ diet, but instead was synthesized by the beetles themselves.

Soldier beetles are the only animals reported to contain DHMA. This, together with the observation that the beetles forage on plants (such as daisies) which contain a lot of these types of fatty acids, led to previous incorrect conclusions that the DHMA in soldier beetles was derived from their diet.

“Through our research and the gene differences we have discovered, we now know soldier beetles have evolved this same defensive compound entirely independently of its production in plants and fungi,” said Haritos.

The article can be found at: Haritos VS et al. (2012) The convergent evolution of defensive polyacetylenic fatty acid biosynthesis genes in soldier beetles.

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Source: CSIRO.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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