Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Aphids evolved special, surprising talents

30.04.2010
These insect pests pioneered new frontiers in genetics

Contrary to popular belief, aphids are not just sap-sucking, plant-destroying enemies of agriculture. In fact, these pests are genetic pioneers that evolved two unique traits, according to a study that appears in the April 30 issue of the journal Science.

First, aphids are, so far, the only animal known to produce essential pigments known as carotenoids. The aphid's pigment-producing ability is unique to the animal kingdom. Other animals, including humans, that need carotenoids cannot produce these essentials themselves; instead, they must obtain carotenoids from food.

Why are carotenoids needed by many plants and animals? Because they provide vital support to varied functions, ranging from promoting immunity to reducing cell damage and providing color to fruits and vegetables. For example, carotenoids give tomatoes their red color and flamingoes their pink color. Carotenoids also determine whether aphids are red or green--a color distinction that influences their vulnerabiilty to predators and other threats.

As for the second unique trait, aphids probably acquired their carotenoid-producing ability through a rare, and perhaps unique, process: millions of years ago, aphids apparently "snatched" carotenoid-producing genes from a carotenoid-producing member of the fungi kingdom, and then snapped those snatched genes into their own genetic code.

Gene transfer between organisms is not itself a rare phenomenon. However, the fungi-to-aphid gene transfer is the only known gene transfer between members of the fungi kingdom and animal kingdom--which are so evolutionarily distant from one another that it was long thought that never the twain would genetically meet.

But by busting through kingdom barriers, aphids gained something akin to a "genetic magic wand" that empowered them to produce their own carotenoids. They were thereby freed of the need to scavenge for carotenoid-yielding foods. The result: one less chore on the aphid's "to do" list, and a new self-sufficiency for these insects.

No one knows what compelled genes to jump from fungi to aphids. But "the transferred fungi genes may have originated from a closely associated fungus, such as one of the fungi that causes diseases in aphids," says Nancy Moran of the University of Arizona, the lead author of the Science paper. "Because the carotenoid-producing genes were the only fungus-related genes that we found in the aphid genes, we think that the fungi-to-aphid transfer was an extremely rare event."

"This is a very big discovery," says Matt Kane of the National Science Foundation. "By recognizing the horizontal transfer of nutritionally important carotenoid genes, Nancy Moran and her colleagues are the first to discover that gene transfer can occur between very distantly related groups of higher, multi-cellular organisms such as fungi and insects."

The foundation for the discovery of the fungi-to-aphid gene transfer was laid when a research team that included Moran constructed the first map of the entire genetic code of aphids. Then, when follow-up studies of the aphid's genetic map were conducted by a different research led by Moran, the presence of carotenoid-producing genes was discovered.

Because a few cases of bacterium-to-animal gene transfer are known and because aphids have close associations with bacterial symbionts, bacteria were initially considered a more likely suspect for genetic swapping with aphids than were the more genetically complex fungi. But after identifying signature similarities between the sequences and arrangements of the aphid and fungi carotenoid-producing genes, Moran's team was able to eliminate bacteria, as well as laboratory contamination, as potential sources for the aphids' carotenoid-producing genes.

Lily Whiteman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>