Charting the proteomes of organisms with unsequenced genomes by MALDI-quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry and BLAST homology searching.
Chlorophylls, the most prominent natural pigments, are part of the daily diet of herbivorous insects. The spectrum of ingested and digested chlorophyll metabolites compares well to the pattern of early chlorophyll-degradation products in senescent plants. Intact chlorophyll is rapidly degraded by proteins in the front- and midgut. Unlike plants, insects convert both chlorophyll a and b into the corresponding catabolites. MALDI-TOF/MS imaging allowed monitoring the distribution of the chlorophyll catabolites along the gut of Spodoptera littoralis larvae. The chlorophyll degradation in the fore- and mid-gut is strongly pH dependent, and requires alkaline conditions. Using LC-MS/MS analysis we identified a lipocalin-type protein in the intestinal fluid of S. littoralis homolog to the chlorophyllide a binding protein from Bombyx mori. Widefield and high-resolution autofluorescence microscopy revealed that the brush border membranes are covered with the chlorophyllide binding protein tightly bound via its GPI-anchor to the gut membrane. A function in defense against gut microbes is discussed.