Insect Symbiont Replacement

Red Aphids

Red Aphids

Many aphid species have symbiotic bacteria (Buchnera spp.) housed in special cells called bacteriocytes. Insect biologists have many questions about the interaction between these symbionts and the host aphid. It is possible to selectively kill the symbionts, but that only enables study of the gross effects. Moran and Yun* have developed a way to replace the native Buchnera in the pea aphid.

First they selected a Buchnera mutant with intolerance to heat. Heating the aphids to 35 C for 4 hours, kills most or even all the Buchnera. Buchnera from another aphid are then injected into the hemocoel. In some aphids, all the Buchnera was replaced. In other aphids, a mixture of both Buchnera strains was produced. Further heat treatments eliminated the heat susceptible Buchnera. This technique makes it possible to contemplate a new line of research into these symbionts.

*Nancy A. Moran and Yueli Yun.  Experimental replacement of an obligate insect symbiont.  PNAS.  Vol. 112 no. 7. Nancy A. Moran,  2093–2096.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420037112

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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