by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
A small, aphid-like insect called a whitefly has plant DNA lurking in its genome—and it’s among the first known instances of gene transfer from plant to insect, reports Heidi Ledford for Nature.
The gene in question is no slouch either, as it appears to enable the insects to feed on plants loaded with natural toxins, according to the new study published last week in the journal Cell. This fateful transference of genetic material occurred at least 35 million years ago and looks to be part of the genetic toolkit that make whiteflies such a formidable agricultural pest, reports Jonathan Lambert for Science News.
“Ten or 20 years ago no one thought that this kind of gene transfer was possible,” Roy Kirsch, a chemical ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology who wasn’t involved in the study, tells Science News. “There are so many barriers a gene must overcome to move from a plant to an insect, but this study clearly shows that it happened, and that the gene provides a benefit to whiteflies.”