Gene discovery turns soldier beetle defence into biotech opportunity

Nov 08, 2012
The Soldier beetle is the first animal found to produce the exotic fatty acid dihydromatriciaria (DHMA).

(Phys.org)—New antibiotic and anti-cancer chemicals may one day be synthesised using biotechnology, following CSIRO's discovery of the three genes that combine to provide soldier beetles with their potent predator defence system.

CSIRO researchers, and a colleague at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, published details of the gene identification breakthrough and potential applications recently in the international 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 synthesised for potential antibiotic, anti-cancer, or other industrial purposes," Dr Haritos said.

A close up view of the secreted defensive fluid containing DHMA.

Soldier beetles exude a white 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, and algae, these compounds have proved very difficult to manufacture using conventional . However, Dr Haritos and her team have developed a way to achieve this.

"We have outlined a method for reproducing these polyyne chemicals in like yeast, using mild conditions" Dr Haritos said.

Soldier beetles are the only animals reported to contain DHMA. This, together with the observation that the beetles on plants (such as daisies) which contain a lot of these types of , 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," Dr Haritos said.

Explore further: The origin of the language of life

Related Stories

Plants mimic scent of pollinating beetles

Apr 03, 2012

The color and scent of flowers and their perception by pollinator insects are believed to have evolved in the course of mutual adaptation. However, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Zurich has ...

Researchers unveil a new class of fatty acids

Apr 28, 2008

CSIRO researchers have discovered a new class of fatty acids – alpha-hydroxy polyacetylenic fatty acids – that could be used as sensors for detecting changes in temperature and mechanical stress loads.

Far-flung dung beetles here to 'finish the job'

Jun 06, 2012

Specially chosen for their spring frenzy and voracious appetite for dung, two new species of European dung beetles have arrived in Australia to improve cattle pastures and finish off a job well started through ...

Recommended for you

The origin of the language of life

4 hours ago

The genetic code is the universal language of life. It describes how information is encoded in the genetic material and is the same for all organisms from simple bacteria to animals to humans. However, the ...

Quest to unravel mysteries of our gene network

Dec 18, 2014

There are roughly 27,000 genes in the human body, all but a relative few of them connected through an intricate and complex network that plays a dominant role in shaping our physiological structure and functions.

EU court clears stem cell patenting

Dec 18, 2014

A human egg used to produce stem cells but unable to develop into a viable embryo can be patented, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.