In Brief: A symbiotic, color-changing relationship

November 21, 2010

For the tiny pea aphid, body color is a matter of life and death: Red and green color morphs determine their susceptibility to various predators and parasites in the wild.

Now, researchers have identified a particular , known as Rickettsiella, which changes the insects’ body colors from red to green—a discovery that makes it clear that factors other than genetics can influence this important physical trait.

Tsutomu Tsuchida and colleagues were screening the genomes of pea in France, when they found several strains of green aphids that produced red offspring.

As the offspring grew, the researchers noticed that the ’ body colors changed from red to green.

So, the researchers began investigating the various endosymbionts that are known to infect aphids and influence a wide range of their characteristics, such as tolerance of high temperatures or resistance to natural enemies.

The researchers identified a previously unrecognized bacterial symbiont and used antibiotic treatments to rid the aphids of other infections and hone in on this new one, Rickettsiella.

Tsuchida and colleagues say that Rickettsiella appears to increase the amount of blue-green pigments in aphids without affecting their yellow-red pigmentation very much at all.

In light of these findings, the researchers suggest that this endosymbiotic relationship influences predator-prey interactions, as well as parasitic relationships, among populations of this well-known insect pest.

Explore further: Aphid population control is studied

More information: "Symbiotic Bacterium Modifies Aphid Body Color," by T. Tsuchida et al. Science: DOI:10.1126/science.1195463

Related Stories

Aphid population control is studied

November 15, 2006

U.S. agricultural scientists say farmers could save up to $12 per acre on insecticide treatments for soybean aphids by using the aphid's natural enemies.

Aphids borrowed bacterial genes to play host

March 9, 2009

Most aphids host mutualistic bacteria, Buchnera aphidicola, which live inside specialized cells called bacteriocytes. Buchnera are vital to the aphids well being as they provide essential amino acids that are scarce in its ...

Recommended for you

Male seahorse and human pregnancies remarkably alike

September 1, 2015

Their pregnancies are carried by the males but, when it comes to breeding, seahorses have more in common with humans than previously thought, new research from the University of Sydney reveals.

Parasitized bees are self-medicating in the wild, study finds

September 1, 2015

Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.