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

ome specific families of detoxification genes in the spider mites, "the number of genes was about three times that seen in other arthropods," he adds.

As part of the study, the scientists took a specific strain of spider mites that normally eat kidney beans and transferred them to tomato and thale cress (Arabidopsis) plants. On these new plants, the mites "expressed" or activated different genes and thus made different detoxification compounds so they could eat the new plant species. Some of those detox genes were previously unknown and thus provide new insight into how mites counteract plant defenses.

For example, half of the cytochrome P450 family of detoxification genes changed expression turned either on or off when the mites were switched to the new plants. That is a bigger change than seen before in any group of animals, Clark says.

"This suggests that these genes are critical for the ability of mites to be pests on many different plants."

Clark says the spider mite has 39 genes from one drug-resistance gene family (and the proteins they encode), compared with only nine to 14 in insects and vertebrate animals. That shows how an expanded set of genes evolved to help the pests feed on numerous plant species.

In a yet-unexplained mystery, the two-spotted spider mite has some genes similar to those in bacteria and fungi. "They somehow captured them from other organisms in the environment and now are using them for their own growth and persistence," says Clark. "They are mostly enzymes involved in changing other small molecules. The hypothesis is these genes may be involved in modifying [detoxifying] toxic compounds found in plants."


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

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