Scientific Reports volume 13, Article number: 18139 (2023)
Plants protect their tissues from insect herbivory with specialized structures and chemicals, such as cuticles, trichomes, and metabolites contained therein. Bacteria inside the insect gut are also exposed to plant defences and can potentially modify the outcome of plant–insect interactions. To disentangle this complex multi-organism system, we used tomato mutants impaired in the production of plant defences (odorless-2 and jasmonic acid–insensitive1) and two cultivars (Ailsa Craig and Castlemart), exposed them to herbivory by the cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni H.) and collected the insect frass for bacterial community analysis. While the epicuticular wax and terpene profiles were variable, the leaf fatty acid composition remained consistent among genotypes. Moreover, larval weight confirmed the negative association between plant defences and insect performance. The distinctive frass fatty acid profiles indicated that plant genotype also influences the lipid digestive metabolism of insects. Additionally, comparisons of leaf and insect-gut bacterial communities revealed a limited overlap in bacterial species between the two sample types. Insect bacterial community abundance and diversity were notably reduced in insects fed on the mutants, with Enterobacteriaceae being the predominant group, whereas putatively pathogenic taxa were found in wildtype genotypes. Altogether, these results indicate that plant defences can modulate insect-associated bacterial community composition.