How to defend yourself with cyanide the natural way

Many plants and some insects have developed the ability to deter predators through the use of an extremely toxic substance — cyanide.

For the first time, we're starting to understand that even though these defense mechanisms are linked, they evolved independently. New research into this focused on the larvae of the Burnet moth, which are brightly colored to warn predators of their deadly payload. What the researchers discovered is that even though the moths are capable of absorbing the cyanide from their food sources, they can also make it themselves.


The insects have two pathways to get the stuff. They can either eat the plant Lotus corniculatus, sequester cyanogenic glucosides, and use them later — or they can create them from scratch through biosynthesis.

At some point over the last 420 million years, both the plants and insects evolved to produce the same enzymes for cyanide defence.

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