Insect egg-killing: a new front on the evolutionary arms-race between brassicaceous plants and pierid butterflies

Eddie Griese, Lotte Caarls, Niccolò Bassetti, Setareh Mohammadin, Patrick Verbaarschot, Gabriella Bukovinszkine’Kiss, Erik H. Poelman, Rieta Gols, M.E. Schranz, Nina E. Fatouros*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Evolutionary arms-races between plants and insect herbivores have long been proposed to generate key innovations such as plant toxins and detoxification mechanisms that can drive diversification of the interacting species. A novel front-line of plant defence is the killing of herbivorous insect eggs. We test whether an egg-killing plant trait has an evolutionary basis in such a plant–insect arms-race. Within the crucifer family (Brassicaceae), some species express a hypersensitive response (HR)-like necrosis underneath butterfly eggs (Pieridae) that leads to eggs desiccating or falling off the plant. We studied the phylogenetic distribution of this trait, its egg-killing effect on and elicitation by butterflies, by screening 31 Brassicales species, and nine Pieridae species. We show a clade-specific induction of strong, egg-killing HR-like necrosis mainly in species of the Brassiceae tribe including Brassica crops and close relatives. The necrosis is strongly elicited by pierid butterflies that are specialists of crucifers. Furthermore, HR-like necrosis is linked to PR1 defence gene expression, accumulation of reactive oxygen species and cell death, eventually leading to egg-killing. Our findings suggest that the plants’ egg-killing trait is a new front on the evolutionary arms-race between Brassicaceae and pierid butterflies beyond the well-studied plant toxins that have evolved against their caterpillars.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-353
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Early online date11 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • coevolution
  • counter adaptation
  • egg deposition
  • hypersensitive response
  • induced plant defences
  • plant toxins
  • specialist herbivores


Dive into the research topics of 'Insect egg-killing: a new front on the evolutionary arms-race between brassicaceous plants and pierid butterflies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this