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1.  Expression and Biological Activity of the Cystine Knot Bioinsecticide PA1b (Pea Albumin 1 Subunit b) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e81619.
The PA1b (Pea Albumin 1, subunit b) peptide is an entomotoxin extract from Legume seeds with lethal activity on several insect pests, such as mosquitoes, some aphids and cereal weevils. This 37 amino-acid cysteine-rich peptide has been, until now, obtained by biochemical purification or chemical synthesis. In this paper, we present our results for the transient production of the peptide in Nicotiana benthamiana by agro-infiltration, with a yield of about 35 µg/g of fresh leaves and maximum production 8 days after infiltration. PA1b is part of the PA1 gene which, after post-translational modifications, encodes two peptides (PA1b and PA1a). We show that transforming tobacco with the PA1b cDNA alone does not result in production of the toxin and, in fact, the entire cDNA is necessary, raising the question of the role of PA1a. We constructed a PA1-cassette, allowing for the quick “cut/paste” of different PA1b mutants within a conserved PA1 cDNA. This cassette enabled us to produce the six isoforms of PA1b which exist in pea seeds. Biological tests revealed that all the isoforms display similar activity, with the exception of one which is inactive. The lack of activity in this isoform led us to conclude that the amphiphilic nature of the peptide is necessary for activity. The possible applications of this expression system for other cysteine-rich biomolecules are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3859497  PMID: 24349099
2.  High toxicity and specificity of the saponin 3-GlcA-28-AraRhaxyl-medicagenate, from Medicago truncatula seeds, for Sitophilus oryzae 
BMC Chemical Biology  2012;12:3.
Because of the increasingly concern of consumers and public policy about problems for environment and for public health due to chemical pesticides, the search for molecules more safe is currently of great importance. Particularly, plants are able to fight the pathogens as insects, bacteria or fungi; so that plants could represent a valuable source of new molecules.
It was observed that Medicago truncatula seed flour displayed a strong toxic activity towards the adults of the rice weevil Sitophilus oryzae (Coleoptera), a major pest of stored cereals. The molecule responsible for toxicity was purified, by solvent extraction and HPLC, and identified as a saponin, namely 3-GlcA-28-AraRhaxyl-medicagenate. Saponins are detergents, and the CMC of this molecule was found to be 0.65 mg per mL. Neither the worm Caenorhabditis elegans nor the bacteria E. coli were found to be sensitive to this saponin, but growth of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae was inhibited at concentrations higher than 100 μg per mL. The purified molecule is toxic for the adults of the rice weevils at concentrations down to 100 μg per g of food, but this does not apply to the others insects tested, including the coleopteran Tribolium castaneum and the Sf9 insect cultured cells.
This specificity for the weevil led us to investigate this saponin potential for pest control and to propose the hypothesis that this saponin has a specific mode of action, rather than acting via its non-specific detergent properties.
PMCID: PMC3388004  PMID: 22536832
Saponin; Insect; Medicago truncatula; Sitophilus oryzae
3.  Biological Activity and Binding Site Characteristics of the PA1b Entomotoxin on Insects from Different Orders 
The aim of this work was to investigate both the biological activity of an entomotoxin, the pea albumin 1b (PA1b), and the presence or absence of its binding site within an array of insect species. The data obtained showed that insect sensitivity was not related to its taxonomic position. Moreover, PA1b was not toxic to several tested microorganisms. However, the binding site was found to be conserved among very different insects, displaying similar thermodynamic constants regardless of the in vivo species sensitivity. The binding site alone was, therefore, not sufficient for toxicity. One exception was the pea weevil, Bruchus pisorum, which was the only tested species without any detectable binding activity. These findings indicate that the binding site probably has an important endogenous function in insects and that adaptation to pea seeds resulted in the elimination of the toxin binding activity in two independent insect lineages. Other mechanisms are likely to interact with the toxin effects, although they are still largely unknown, but there is no evidence of any specific degradation of PA1b in the midgut of insects insensitive to the toxin, such as Drosophila melanogaster or Mamestra brassicae.
PMCID: PMC2999418  PMID: 20331395
PA1b; binding site; toxin; knottin; cystine-knot peptide

Results 1-3 (3)