Conclusions and future prospects

Although there has been significant progress in identifying and characterizing functions of plasma proteins that take part in innate immune responses of M. sexta, significant gaps remain in our knowledge, and important questions require further experimentation. There is a need to re-examine the mixture of antimicrobial peptides in plasma using modern purification and proteomics methods. It is likely that undiscovered peptides and proteins exist, with potentially useful and interesting functions. In this regard, little is known about antifungal gene products from Manduca, and future bioassays should include searches for such activities. Genediscovery efforts will require sequencing of the M. sexta genome at some point, to permit a thorough examination, and this will certainly yield a wealth of prospective immune system genes to be investigated experimentally.

Future research may yield answers to intriguing questions about the functions of clip domains in protease cascades, as well as the mechanisms by which the SPHs act as cofactors. Comparison of the pathways for intracellular signalling and transcrip-tional regulation in lepidopteran insects with the well-characterized Drosophila systems, will likely yield important insights regarding the evolution of immune systems in insects. Protease pathways and their regulation in insect immunity are very complex and are just beginning to be understood. It is likely that further study of immunity in M. sexta can serve as a model to direct and promote investigation of these pathways in other species.

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