Molecular mechanisms and evolution of the neurotoxin tolerance in the Colorado potato beetle

1 PhD project offered in the IPP winter call 2022

Scientific Background

Many organisms produce toxins that are lethal to their predators but not to themselves. To achieve this, the organism must specifically regulate the production of the toxins and evolve self-resistance at the cellular level in parallel. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms and evolutionary processes remain largely unknown.

PhD Project: Molecular mechanisms and evolution of the neurotoxin tolerance in the Colorado potato beetle

Colorado potato beetles produce a high abundance of leptinotarsin in their hemolymph, a presynaptic neurotoxin that is lethal to many insects and vertebrates but harmless to the carriers. This project will investigate the mechanisms and evolution of the toxin self-tolerance using a combination of functional neurobiology and evolutionary genetics approaches. We are looking for candidates with a strong background in molecular biology and/or molecular genetics. In addition to the well-structured training program within the IPP, the PhD candidate will gain additional interdisciplinary training by being jointly supervised by Prof. Shuqing Xu (evolutionary genetics) and Prof. Marion Silies (functional neurobiology).

Publications relevant to this project

TH Hsiao, G Fraenkel, Properties of leptinotarsin. A toxic hemolymph protein from the Colorado potato beetle. Toxicon 7, 119-130 (1969).

RD Crosland, RW Fitch, HB Hines, Characterization of beta-leptinotarsin-h and the effects of calcium flux antagonists on its activity. Toxicon 45, 829- 841 (2005).

S. Molina-Obando S, Vargas-Fique JF, Henning M, Gür B, Schladt TM, Akhtar Li J, Halitschke R, Li D, Paetz C, Su H, Heiling S, Xu S, Baldwin IT: Controlled hydroxylations of diterpenoids allow for plant chemical defense without autotoxicity. Science 371(6526):255-260. (2021)

J, Berger TK, Silies M ON selectivity in Drosophila vision is a multisynaptic process involving both glutamatergic and GABAergic inhibition. eLife, pii:e49373 (2019)


Prof Marion Silies
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Institute of Developmental Biology and Neurobiology (iDN)

Prof Shuqing Xu
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution (iomE)