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, 8 (2), 253-7

Horizontally Transferred Fungal Carotenoid Genes in the Two-Spotted Spider Mite Tetranychus Urticae


Horizontally Transferred Fungal Carotenoid Genes in the Two-Spotted Spider Mite Tetranychus Urticae

Boran Altincicek et al. Biol Lett.


Carotenoids are organic pigments commonly synthesized by plants, algae and some micro-organisms. Through absorption of light energy, carotenoids facilitate photosynthesis and provide protection against photo-oxidation. While it was presumed that all carotenoids in animals were sequestered from their diets, aphids were recently shown to harbour genomic copies of functional carotenoid biosynthesis genes that were acquired via horizontal gene transfer from fungi. Our search of available animal transcripts revealed the presence of two related genes in the two-spotted spider mite Tetranychus urticae. Phylogenetic analyses suggest that the T. urticae genes were transferred from fungi into the spider mite genome, probably in a similar manner as recently suggested for aphids. The genes are expressed in both green and red morphs, with red morphs exhibiting higher levels of gene expression. Additionally, there appear to be changes in the expression of these genes during diapause. As carotenoids are associated with diapause induction in these animals, our results add to recent findings highlighting the importance of eukaryotic horizontal gene transfer in the ecology and evolution of higher animals.


Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Maximum-likelihood protein phylogenies of carotenoid biosynthesis enzymes. (a) Carotenoid desaturases and (b) fused carotenoid cyclase–carotenoid synthases. Branches with support values greater than 50 are labelled with Bayesian posterior probabilities followed by maximum-likelihood bootstrap support values (asterisks denote a value of 100). Scale bars represent replacements per site.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Expression of carotenoid biosynthesis genes across morphs and life stages in T. urticae. Relative quantification of (a) carotenoid desaturase and (b) carotenoid cyclase–carotenoid synthase. Grey bars represent the mean expression of two to four samples of 100 green spider mites each (±s.e.m.; three technical replicates per sample); white bars represent red spider mites.

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