Aphids are severe agricultural pests that damage crops by feeding on phloem sap and vectoring plant pathogens. Chemical insecticides provide an important aphid control strategy, but alternative and sustainable control measures are required to avoid rapidly emerging resistance, environmental contamination, and the risk to humans and beneficial organisms. Aphids are dependent on bacterial symbionts, which enable them to survive on phloem sap lacking essential nutrients, as well as conferring environmental stress tolerance and resistance to parasites. The evolution of aphids has been accompanied by the loss of many immunity-related genes, such as those encoding antibacterial peptides, which are prevalent in other insects, probably because any harm to the bacterial symbionts would inevitably affect the aphids themselves. This suggests that antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) could replace or at least complement conventional insecticides for aphid control. We fed the pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum
) with AMPs from the venom glands of scorpions. The AMPs reduced aphid survival, delayed their reproduction, displayed in vitro activity against aphid bacterial symbionts, and reduced the number of symbionts in vivo. Remarkably, we found that some of the scorpion AMPs compromised the aphid bacteriome, a specialized organ that harbours bacterial symbionts. Our data suggest that scorpion AMPs holds the potential to be developed as bio-insecticides, and are promising candidates for the engineering of aphid-resistant crops.
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