Aphids can make their own carotenoids -- organic pigments that serve a variety of functions in animals, but until now, were believed to be produced only by bacteria, plants, and fungi.
Pea aphids with genetically based
differences in carotenoid content.
Green and red individuals represent
a naturally occurring polymorphism;
yellow-green individuals are mutants
derived from a red parental line.

Image: Charles Hedgcock, R.B.P
The small insects appear to have acquired the carotenoid-making ability via lateral gene transfer from a fungal species, according to a study published this week in Science. "This is the first documentation of animals being able to produce their own carotenoids," said evolutionary biologist linkurl:Alex Badyaev;http://www.u.arizona.edu/%7Eabadyaev of the University of Arizona, who did not participate in the research. "This is a huge deal because carotenoids are [some] of the most diverse biological compounds [and have] a tremendous variety of important functions in animals -- everything from vision...
N.A. Moran and T. Jarvik, "Lateral transfer of genes from fungi underlies carotenoid production in aphids," Science:328:624-7, 2010.

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