Medicago truncatula Oleanolic-Derived Saponins Are Correlated with Caterpillar Deterrence

Fanping Cai, Bonnie S. Watson, David Meek, David V. Huhman, Daniel J. Wherritt, Cecile Ben, Laurent Gentzbittel, Brian T. Driscoll, Lloyd W. Sumner, Jacqueline C. Bede

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Plant resistance mechanisms to insect herbivory can potentially be bred into crops as an important strategy for integrated pest management. Medicago truncatula ecotypes inoculated with the rhizobium Ensifer medicae (Sinorhizobium medica) WSM419 were screened for resistance to herbivory by caterpillars of the beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua, through leaf and whole plant choice studies; TN1.11 and F83005.5 are identified as the least and most deterrent ecotypes, respectively. In response to caterpillar herbivory, both ecotypes mount a robust burst of plant defensive jasmonate phytohormones. Restriction of caterpillars to either of these ecotypes does not adversely affect pest performance. This argues for an antixenosis (deterrence) resistance mechanism associated with the F83005.5 ecotype. Unbiased metabolomic profiling identified strong ecotype-specific differences in metabolite profile, particularly in the content of oleanolic-derived saponins that may act as antifeedants. Compared to the more susceptible ecotype, F83005.5 has higher levels of oleanolic-type zanhic acid- and medicagenic acid-derived compounds. Together, these data support saponin-mediated deterrence as a resistance mechanism of the F83005.5 ecotype and implicates these compounds as potential antifeedants that could be used in agricultural sustainable pest management strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)712-724
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Antifeedant
  • Antixenosis
  • Caterpillar herbivory
  • Deterrence
  • Medicago truncatula
  • Plant resistance
  • Plant-insect interactions
  • Spodoptera exigua


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