Biotech Updates

Whitefly Genome Reveals Why It is a Formidable Threat to Food Security

December 21, 2016

Researchers led by Associate Professor Zhangjun Fei of the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have sequenced the genome of the whitefly (Bemisia tabici), an invasive insect responsible for spreading plant viruses worldwide, causing billions of dollars in crop losses each year. Results of the genome study offer clues to whitefly's remarkable ability to resist pesticides, transmit more than 300 plant viruses, and to feed on at least 1,000 different plant species.

The BTI researchers, together with international colleagues, found that, compared to related species, the whitefly has expanded families of detoxification genes. It also has extra genes that code for proteins related to virus acquisition and transmission, as well as insecticide resistance.

According to the researchers, in an impressive example of horizontal gene transfer, the whitefly acquired 142 genes from bacteria or fungi, including some genes that code for enzymes that break down foreign chemicals. These genes likely allow the whitefly to feed on diverse types of plants and to rapidly evolve resistance to insecticides.

For more information, read the news release from BTI.