Disruption of plant carotenoid biosynthesis through virus-induced gene silencing affects oviposition behaviour of the butterfly Pieris rapae


Author for correspondence:
Marcel Dicke
Tel: +31 317 484311
Email: marcel.dicke@wur.nl


  • Optical plant characteristics are important cues to plant-feeding insects. In this article, we demonstrate for the first time that silencing the phytoene desaturase (PDS) gene, encoding a key enzyme in plant carotenoid biosynthesis, affects insect oviposition site selection behaviour.
  • Virus-induced gene silencing employing tobacco rattle virus was used to knock down endogenous PDS expression in three plant species (Arabidopsis thaliana, Brassica nigra and Nicotiana benthamiana) by its heterologous gene sequence from Brassica oleracea.
  • We investigated the consequences of the silencing of PDS on oviposition behaviour by Pieris rapae butterflies on Arabidopsis and Brassica plants; first landing of the butterflies on Arabidopsis plants (to eliminate an effect of contact cues); first landing on Arabidopsis plants enclosed in containers (to eliminate an effect of volatiles); and caterpillar growth on Arabidopsis plants. Our results show unambiguously that P. rapae has an innate ability to visually discriminate between green and variegated green-whitish plants. Caterpillar growth was significantly lower on PDS-silenced than on empty vector control plants. This study presents the first analysis of PDS function in the interaction with an herbivorous insect.
  • We conclude that virus-induced gene silencing is a powerful tool for investigating insect–plant interactions in model and nonmodel plants.