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Periodic outbreaks of spruce budworm (SBW) affect large areas of ecologically and economically important conifer forests in North America, causing tree mortality and reduced forest productivity. Host resistance against SBW has been linked to growth phenology and the chemical composition of foliage, but the underlying molecular mechanisms and population variation are largely unknown. Using a genomics approach, we discovered a β-glucosidase gene, Pgβglu-1, whose expression levels and function underpin natural resistance to SBW in mature white spruce (Picea glauca) trees. In phenotypically resistant trees, Pgβglu-1 transcripts were up to 1000 times more abundant than in non-resistant trees and were highly enriched in foliage. The encoded PgβGLU-1 enzyme catalysed the cleavage of acetophenone sugar conjugates to release the aglycons piceol and pungenol. These aglycons were previously shown to be active against SBW. Levels of Pgβglu-1 transcripts and biologically active acetophenone aglycons were substantially different between resistant and non-resistant trees over time, were positively correlated with each other and were highly variable in a natural white spruce population. These results suggest that expression of Pgβglu-1 and accumulation of acetophenone aglycons is a constitutive defence mechanism in white spruce. The progeny of resistant trees had higher Pgβglu-1 gene expression than non-resistant progeny, indicating that the trait is heritable. With reported increases in the intensity of SBW outbreaks, influenced by climate, variation of Pgβglu-1 transcript expression, PgβGLU-1 enzyme activity and acetophenone accumulation may serve as resistance markers to better predict impacts of SBW in both managed and wild spruce populations.

Original publication




Journal article


Plant J

Publication Date





68 - 80


Picea glauca, acetophenone biosynthesis, conifer forest health, glucosyl hydrolase, insect resistance, transcriptome profiling, Acetophenones, Animals, Disease Resistance, Gene Expression Profiling, Gene Expression Regulation, Plant, Herbivory, Larva, Models, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, Moths, Picea, Plant Proteins, Protein Structure, Tertiary, beta-Glucosidase