The silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) incorporated a gene called BtPMaT1 from plants into its genome roughly 35 million years ago and now uses it to neutralize toxins plants use to defend themselves against insects, allowing the whitefly to feed on the plants safely.
Silverleaf whiteflies (Bemisia tabaci) carry a plant-derived phenolic glucoside malonyltransferase gene BtPMaT1, which enables the insects to neutralize phenolic glycosides in host plants. Image credit: Xia et al., doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.02.014.
Plants protect themselves with a vast array of toxic compounds, yet most plants serve as food for insects.
The evolutionary processes that allow herbivorous insects to resist plant defenses remain largely unknown.
The silverleaf whitefly is a cosmopolitan agricultural pest that attacks at least 600 different species of plants worldwide.
This insect also vectors several serious plant pathogenic viruses and is an excellent model to study the molecular mechanisms involved in overcoming plant defenses.