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Batrachotoxins, or frog toxins that are found in the genus phyllobates of poison dart frogs, have been identified in the diet of the frogs rather than being self-synthesized. I was wondering since the discovery that beetles from the family merylidae were known to contain the batrachotoxin ingredients, how did the beetles obtain the necessary parts for batrachotoxin synthesis, since these beetles cannot make the toxin themselves? Has a plant source been identified that makes the alkaloids for beetles to consume, and if so, how do plants make batrachotoxin in the first place? Thank you.
Question Date: 2013-11-18
Answer 1:

I found a paper published in 2004 by John Dumbacher that says essentially what you've described: that the poisonous secretions in poison-dart frogs and toxic birds may arise from eating melyrid beetles containing batrachotoxin alkaloids. They say that they don't believe that the beetles contain the necessary molecular machinery to produce the toxin from scratch, but that parts may come from plants. Specifically, beetles don't synthesize steroid skeletons (part of the structure of batrachotoxin), but these are found in plants. When the beetles eat the plants, these steroid skeletons can be modified by the beetle or a symbiotic organism inside the beetle to produce the batrachotoxin.

The paper acknowledged that the matter was still under investigation. I looked around for a while, but didn't find any newer papers with more details, so the question may still be an open one with many details yet to be explored. The leading hypothesis, however, appears to be that the final structure of the toxin is produced inside of the beetles, but using starting materials from plants eaten by the beetles.

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