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In an elaborate form of inter-species exploitation, many insects hijack plant development to induce novel plant organs called galls that provide the insect with a source of nutrition and a temporary home. Galls result from dramatic reprogramming of plant cell biology driven by insect molecules, but the roles of specific insect molecules in gall development have not yet been determined. Here, we study the aphid Hormaphis cornu, which makes distinctive "cone" galls on leaves of witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana. We found that derived genetic variants in the aphid gene determinant of gall color (dgc) are associated with strong downregulation of dgc transcription in aphid salivary glands, upregulation in galls of seven genes involved in anthocyanin synthesis, and deposition of two red anthocyanins in galls. We hypothesize that aphids inject DGC protein into galls and that this results in differential expression of a small number of plant genes. dgc is a member of a large, diverse family of novel predicted secreted proteins characterized by a pair of widely spaced cysteine-tyrosine-cysteine (CYC) residues, which we named BICYCLE proteins. bicycle genes are most strongly expressed in the salivary glands specifically of galling aphid generations, suggesting that they may regulate many aspects of gall development. bicycle genes have experienced unusually frequent diversifying selection, consistent with their potential role controlling gall development in a molecular arms race between aphids and their host plants.
PMID: 33657407 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]