'Jekyll and Hyde' bacteria offer pest control clue

Dec 19, 2007

New research at York has revealed so-called ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ bacteria, suggesting a novel way to control insect pests without using insecticides.

Researchers at the University of York studied the relationship between plant-dwelling insects and the bacteria that live in them – and discovered an unexpected interaction.

Plants are not ‘easy meat’ for insects. In fact, many insects thrive on plant food only because of the presence of a third party: symbiotic bacteria that live in the insects and provide extra nutrients.

While studying interactions between black bean aphids and their associated bacteria, York researchers discovered an intriguing new category of organism that they dubbed ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ bacteria.

Black bean aphids can live on a number of different plant species. In most situations, their internal bacteria are harmless or even beneficial – this is their ‘Jekyll’ side.

But on certain plants, the relationship between insect and bacteria changes with the microscopic organisms exhibiting a disruptive ‘Hyde’ side. The insects grow and reproduce very slowly, while the bacteria themselves proliferate to very high densities in a short time – almost as if the bacteria were ‘betraying’ their hosts.

Further experiments have suggested that the factor triggering this strange change is the composition of nutrients in the plants where the creatures live.

The results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, may point the way to new methods to control aphids and other insect pests.

Professor Angela Douglas, of the University’s Department of Biology, said:

“We now have the basis to explore precisely how these insect pests control their bacteria – and perhaps to develop ways to make the bacteria ‘turn nasty’ on the insects. These findings offer exciting new opportunities to control aphids and other pests without using insecticides.”

Source: University of York

Explore further: Running robots of future may learn from world's best two-legged runners—birds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Evolution of a novel organelle in Animalia

Sep 24, 2014

Mitochondria and chloroplasts are descendants of bacteria that were engulfed by ancient unicellular organisms more than a billion years ago. During their evolution, many genes were transferred from ancestral ...

Recommended for you

Four new dragon millipedes found in China

51 minutes ago

A team of speleobiologists from the South China Agriculture University and the Russian Academy of Sciences have described four new species of the dragon millipedes from southern China, two of which seem to ...

Blocking a fork in the road to DNA replication

58 minutes ago

A team of Whitehead Institute scientists has discovered the surprising manner in which an enigmatic protein known as SUUR acts to control gene copy number during DNA replication. It's a finding that could shed new light on ...

Identifying the source of stem cells

1 hour ago

When most animals begin life, cells immediately begin accepting assignments to become a head, tail or a vital organ. However, mammals, including humans, are special. The cells of mammalian embryos get to ...

User comments : 0

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.