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Molecular genetics of host specialisation in pea aphids


The study of host-associated forms has taught us a great deal about the ecological and genetic processes involved in speciation. In the complex of host races collectively named Acyrthosiphon pisum, or the pea aphid, the increasing availability of genomic data offers us the opportunity to search directly for genetic differences contributing to the adaptation to novel host plants. This project aims to elucidate the genetic basis of host acceptance, a major determinant of host plant specialization, in host r aces of the pea aphid complex. Aphid acceptance of host plants depends on olfaction, gustatory chemoreception and interactions between aphid saliva and host tissue. Therefore, the project will seek to identify genes involved in these processes and then test their differentiation among host races.

Candidate loci will be identified using bioinformatics tools and publicly available genomic and EST sequences for pea aphids. The hypothesis that they play a role in host race formation will be tested by comparing their differentiation between host races with control loci, by examining variation in expression patterns and by comparing their genetic map positions with those of QTL for host acceptance and performance. By using bioinformatics and genomic tools, this project will represent a novel and powerful approach to the problem of host specialisation in phytophagous insects. It would exploit the new opportunities of the genomic era as well as the unique resources available in pea aphids and promises to provide new insights into the evolution of host preferences as well as many opportunities for future work, including applications to pest control.

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Firth Court, Western Bank
United Kingdom