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,; 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,; 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,; 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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