As a new study was published last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have gathered much more information on the evolutionary arms race between caterpillars and spicy mustard plants. Based on their findings, the co-evolution process allowed the two species to evolve.
It’s a case of opposites attracting each other the co-evolution process that caterpillars and spicy mustard plants have undergone throughout the past 90 million years. According to Chris Pires, the biology professor, who has coordinated the study, the two species helped each other evolve even though they are strong enemies.
The Brassicaceae family of plants has always been attacked by caterpillars and butterflies; therefore, these vegetables were forced to develop their own protective mechanism. They increased the production of glucosinolate within their structures to prevent insects from eating them.
Even so, caterpillars found new ways of detoxifying the plants and continued to feed themselves with them. The same process was repeated on several other occasions every time one of the species raised the stakes.
Thus, the more glucosinolate the plants produced, the more adapted the insects became until the Brassicaceae family developed the spicy taste we love today. Based on the information provided by researchers, this process is a clear example of co-evolution when two species help each other evolve by taking up new surviving skills.
The conclusion was reached after scientists have recreated the family tree of the plants, on the one hand and caterpillars, on the other. They have, thus, noticed that there is a link between the higher levels of glucosinolate in plants and the protective mechanisms that bugs use to defend themselves against noxious food.
Such events took place three times in the past 90 million years, according to scientists’ estimations. Seeing the evolution of the two species in this time interval, a new question arises: will spicy mustard plants become even spicier or will they take a new taste to protect themselves against predators?
The finding has been long praised by the scientist community as it has shed light on the process of co-evolution. Moreover, the discovery could be used to inspire the production of new bio repellants, based on the same method that the Brassicaceae plants use.