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Digestion in insects: a molecular, cellular, physiological, and evolutionary approach

Grant number: 02/11938-5
Support Opportunities:Research Projects - Thematic Grants
Duration: October 01, 2003 - December 31, 2007
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Biochemistry - Enzymology
Principal Investigator:Walter Ribeiro Terra
Grantee:Walter Ribeiro Terra
Host Institution: Instituto de Química (IQ). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Pesquisadores principais:
Clelia Ferreira Terra


The use of chemical pesticides to control insects causes environmental damages. To avoid these damages, plants have been transformed in order to express proteins that act through the insect gut, thus becoming resistant to insects (Alstad & Andow, Science 268: 1894-1896, 1995). The development of new transgenic plants needs a more sophisticated understanding of insect midgut physiology than is available. Otherwise, taking into account the variety of these animals, it is necessary to find out general principles from which hypotheses can be advanced in relation to the digestive process in an insect not previously studied. Studies carried out in different insect orders, mainly at our laboratory, showed that the spatial organization of the digestive process depends more on phylogeny than on feeding habits. These studies supported a hypothesis on how insect digestive systems evolved (review: Terra W.R., Evolution of digestive systems of insects. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 35: 181-200, 1990). The improvement of this hypothesis needs that more information is gathered on insects not considered up to now. The characterization of digestive enzymes, microvillar membranes from midgut cells, and of peritrophic membranes (chitin-protein anatomical structures enveloping the food inside the insect midgut) are necessary steps toward a description in molecular detail of digestive events. Besides the importance of these studies to basic science, they may give support to applied science, as digestive enzymes and proteins from microvillar membranes and peritrophic membranes have been used as targets in insect control strategies (Felton & Gatehouse in Biology of the Insect Midgut, pp. 373-416, 1996, Chapman, London). This project deals with the problems advanced above along 3 main research lines: a) evolution of digestive systems; b) digestive enzymes and their secretory mechanisms; c) microvillar and peritrophic membrane proteins. [...] (AU)

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