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Big pest, small genome
Date:11/23/2011

corpions, mites and ticks). Chelicerates are the largest group of animals after insects. The two-spotted spider mite is the first chelicerate to have its genome fully sequenced.

While there are other species of plant-feeding mites, the researchers chose to sequence the genome of the two-spotted spider mite "because of all the spider mites, this is the most widespread because it feeds on so many different plant species," Clark says.

The study's findings shed light on how the spider mites evolved differently than other arthropods. Compared with other arthropods, the two-spotted spider mite:

  • Uses a different molting hormone to shed its exoskeleton during growth.
  • Has only eight Hox genes to orchestrate body-plan development, compared with 10 in most other arthropods, and thus has only two main body segments instead of three. There are other cases in which Hox genes were activated differently in different arthropods, "but this is an extreme case," Clark says. "The genes are both gone.
  • Makes silk that is strong like spider silk but 185 to 435 times thinner. "Spiders spin silk from their abdomens, spider mites from the head region," Clark says. Spider mites use silk to hide from predators, keep themselves warm, and suspend eggs out of predators' reach. Silk from the mites may prove useful as biodegradable surgical sutures and bandages. It "is very thin and very easy to get because you can grow lots of mites on plants," Clark says.

A Genetic Arsenal to Attack Plant Toxins and Pesticides

The spider mite genome also revealed the presence of "families of genes involved in breaking down toxic compounds, either in plants poisonous to the spider mites or in pesticides," says Clark. "You would imagine that if these mites feed on such a broad number of plant hosts, they would have many genes known to be involved in breaking down toxic compounds. And we found that they did."

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Contact: Lee Siegel
lee.siegel@utah.edu
801-581-8993
University of Utah
Source:Eurekalert  

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