01 April 2021

Gene transfer from plant to insect documented.

I would have scoffed at the idea, but the report is in Cell:
Plants protect themselves with a vast array of toxic secondary metabolites, yet most plants serve as food for insects. The evolutionary processes that allow herbivorous insects to resist plant defenses remain largely unknown. The whitefly Bemisia tabaci is a cosmopolitan, highly polyphagous agricultural pest that vectors several serious plant pathogenic viruses and is an excellent model to probe the molecular mechanisms involved in overcoming plant defenses. Here, we show that, through an exceptional horizontal gene transfer event, the whitefly has acquired the plant-derived phenolic glucoside malonyltransferase gene BtPMaT1. This gene enables whiteflies to neutralize phenolic glucosides. This was confirmed by genetically transforming tomato plants to produce small interfering RNAs that silence BtPMaT1, thus impairing the whiteflies’ detoxification ability. These findings reveal an evolutionary scenario whereby herbivores harness the genetic toolkit of their host plants to develop resistance to plant defenses and how this can be exploited for crop protection.
Good discussion at Nature.  I wonder if Monarchs similarly adopted enzymes from milkweeds to enable the caterpillars to detoxify the cardenolides in the plant.  This article in Science (discussed in NYT) suggests that Monarchs did this via mutation, rather than by horizontal gene transfer.

1 comment:

  1. Related. SciShow video on youtube.


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