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Biol Lett. 2012 Dec 23;8(6):986-9. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0664. Epub 2012 Sep 12.

Endosymbiotic bacteria as a source of carotenoids in whiteflies.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


Although carotenoids serve important biological functions, animals are generally unable to synthesize these pigments and instead obtain them from food. However, many animals, such as sap-feeding insects, may have limited access to carotenoids in their diet, and it was recently shown that aphids have acquired the ability to produce carotenoids by lateral transfer of fungal genes. Whiteflies also contain carotenoids but show no evidence of the fungus-derived genes found in aphids. Because many sap-feeding insects harbour intracellular bacteria, it has long been hypothesized that these endosymbionts could serve as an alternative source of carotenoid biosynthesis. We sequenced the genome of the obligate bacterial endosymbiont Portiera from the whitefly Bemisia tabaci. The genome exhibits typical signatures of obligate endosymbionts in sap-feeding insects, including extensive size reduction (358.2 kb) and enrichment for genes involved in essential amino acid biosynthesis. Unlike other sequenced insect endosymbionts, however, Portiera has bacterial homologues of the fungal carotenoid biosynthesis genes in aphids. Therefore, related lineages of sap-feeding insects appear to have convergently acquired the same functional trait by distinct evolutionary mechanisms-bacterial endosymbiosis versus fungal lateral gene transfer.

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