Toxicity of a Furanocoumarin to Armyworms: A Case of Biosynthetic Escape from Insect Herbivores

Science  11 Aug 1978:
Vol. 201, Issue 4355, pp. 532-534
DOI: 10.1126/science.201.4355.532


When the linear furanocoumarin xanthotoxin, found in many plants of the families Rutaceae and Umbelliferae, was administered to larvae of Spodoptera eridania, a generalist insect herbivore, it displayed toxic properties lacking in its biosynthetic precursor umbelliferone. Reduced toxicity observed in the absence of ultraviolet light is consistent with the known mechanism of photoinactivation of DNA by furanocoumarins through ultraviolet-catalyzed cross-linkage of strands. Thus, the ability of a plant to convert umbelliferone to linear furanocoumarins appears to confer broader protection against insect herbivores.