Background: The olfactory system plays an important role in the recognition of leaf volatiles during the search of folivore insects for a suitable plant host. For example, volatiles emitted by mulberry leaves trigger chemotaxis behavior in the silkworms Bombyx mori, and as a consequence, they preferentially reside on and consume mulberry leaves. Here, we aimed to identify natural chemoattractants and their corresponding olfactory receptors (Ors) involved in silkworm behavior to mulberry leaves.
Results: Chemotaxis behavioral assays for headspace volatiles detected by gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy analysis revealed that among the volatiles that were emitted by mulberry leaves, cis-jasmone was the most potent attractant for silkworms, working at a threshold of 30 pg from [corrected] 20 cm distance. Among a total of 66 Ors identified in the B. mori genome, we found that 23 were expressed in the olfactory organs during larval stages. Functional analysis of all the larvae-expressed Ors in Xenopus oocytes revealed that one Or, termed BmOr-56, showed a high sensitivity to cis-jasmone. In addition, the ligand-receptor activity of BmOr-56 reflected the chemotaxis behavioral response of silkworms.
Conclusions: We identified cis-jasmone as a potent attractant in mulberry leaves for silkworms and provide evidence that a highly tuned receptor, BmOr-56, may mediate this behavioral attraction. The current study sheds light on the mechanism of the correlation between olfactory perception in folivore insects and chemotaxis behavior to a natural volatile emitted by green leaves.