Impact of plant nutrients on the relationship between a herbivorous insect and its symbiotic bacteria

Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Mar 7;275(1634):565-70. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1478.


The interactions between herbivorous insects and their symbiotic micro-organisms can be influenced by the plant species on which the insects are reared, but the underlying mechanisms are not understood. Here, we identify plant nutrients, specifically amino acids, as a candidate factor affecting the impact of symbiotic bacteria on the performance of the phloem-feeding aphid Aphis fabae. Aphis fabae grew more slowly on the labiate plant Lamium purpureum than on an alternative host plant Vicia faba, and the negative effect of L. purpureum on aphid growth was consistently exacerbated by the bacterial secondary symbionts Regiella insecticola and Hamiltonella defensa, which attained high densities in L. purpureum-reared aphids. The amino acid content of the phloem sap of L. purpureum was very low; and A. fabae on chemically defined diets of low amino acid content also grew slowly and had elevated secondary symbiont densities. It is suggested that the phloem nutrient profile of L. purpureum promotes deleterious traits in the secondary symbionts and disturbs insect controls over bacterial abundance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / analysis*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Aphids / microbiology*
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Enterobacteriaceae / genetics*
  • Lamiaceae*
  • Phloem / chemistry*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Symbiosis*
  • Vicia faba*


  • Amino Acids
  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S