Protease inhibitors have been proposed as potential control molecules that could be engineered into potato plants for developing crops resistant to the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, a major pest of potato and other Solanaceae. In this study, we examined the effects of feeding young female beetles with foliage from a cultivar of the "Kennebec" potato line (K52) transformed with a gene encoding oryzacystatin I (OCI), a specific cysteine proteinase inhibitor with proven activity against cathepsin H-like enzymes of larvae and adults of the potato beetle. To evaluate the insect's performance, we collected data over a 16-d postemergence period on survival, diapause incidence, foliage consumption, weight gain, and oviposition of females. Tested individuals were fed untransformed (control) and OCI-transformed foliage at two stages of potato leaf differentiation, corresponding to "low" and "high" levels of OCI expression in leaves of K52. The OCI-expressing foliage did not affect female survival (close to 100%), incidence of diapause (15-30%), relative growth rate (RGR) during postemergence growth (5-9% d(-1)) or maximum weight reached (140-160 mg). Neither did it affect female reproductive fitness as measured by preoviposition time (8-9 d), 16-d fecundity (220-290 eggs), or egg eclosion incidence (86-91%). However, nutritional stress to females feeding on OCI foliage was evident, as reflected in their lower efficiency of conversion of ingested foliage (ECI) during postemergence growth, increased foliage consumed per egg laid (up to 119% more), and adaptation of their digestive proteolytic system to the inhibitory effect of OCI. Interestingly, beetles fed foliage expressing the highest level of OCI reacted rapidly to the presence of OCI by producing OCI-insensitive proteases, and exhibiting strong hypertrophic behavior by ingestion of 2.4-2.5 times more OCI rich foliage apparently as a compensatory response for nutritional stress due to the protease inhibitor in their diet.
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