Instant evolution

Bacteria infect an invasive pest species, rapidly transforming the bugs' development and reproduction

Megan Scudellari
Apr 6, 2011
In just six years, symbiotic bacteria have dramatically altered a population of sweet potato whiteflies in the southwestern US, accelerating the development and boosting the reproductive fitness of the crop-damaging pest.
Sweet potato whiteflies
Credit: Stephen Ausmus
The discovery, published this week in linkurl:Science,;http://www.sciencemag.org/content/current is a surprisingly rapid example of evolution that could have significant impacts on ecology and agriculture."It's like instant evolution," said linkurl:Molly Hunter,;http://ag.arizona.edu/ento/faculty/hunter.htm senior author and an entomologist at the University of Arizona. "The whole population has been transformed over a very short period of time.""It's quite unexpected," added linkurl:Frank Jiggins,;http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/research/Jiggins/index.html an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research. "It's now clear there is a lot of important adaptation in insect populations that should actually be attributed to bacterial symbionts."Hunter and her colleagues analyzed whitefly samples collected from 2000 to 2006 in the southwestern US -- saved and...
Rickettsia bellii.RickettsiaRickettsiaRickettsiaWolbachiaScience.Wolbachia Himler, A.G, et al., "Rapid Spread of a Bacterial Symbiont in an Invasive Whitefly Is Driven by Fitness Benefits and Female Bias," Science, 332:254-6, 2011.



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