An international consortium unveiled the whole genome sequence of the two-spotted red spider, one of the most cosmopolitan agriculture pests on Earth. Nature publishes this study which will open new strategies for controlling of plant pests.
The two-spotted red spider, Tetranychus urticae, feeds on over 1000 different plants, 150 plants of agricultural importance such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, apples, pears, maize and soya. As a result of the spider mite feeding and its huge resistance to the majority of the pesticides, this acari turns into one of the most upsetting plant pest causing damages of approximately one billion dollars.
A recent international study, in which have participated scientific researchers from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, has focussed on the sequence and annotation of the whole genome of the two-spotted red spider. This pioneering genomics work, published in the last issue of Nature, opens new avenues for sustainable agriculture by developing non-pesticide tools for pest control breeding for the resistance to spider mites as well as biotechnological approaches for control of this pest resulting in the production of pesticide-free food.
This work has been developed by an international consortium led by Dr. Miodrag Grbic, Professor of the Western Ontario University (Canada) and currently joined to the Instituto de Ciencias de la Vid y el Vino (CSIC-Logroño). The consortium includes scientists from more than 30 institutions from different countries. The work has been funded by the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and the Ontario Genomics Research Institute and USA Department of Energy.
Within the mentioned consortium, the research groups of Drs. Isabel Díaz and Manuel Martínez (Centro de Biotecnología y Genómica de Plantas UPM-INIA), Felix Ortego and Pedro Hernández (Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas, CSIC-Madrid) and Vojislava Grbic (Visitant Professor of the European Marie Ciencias de la Vid y el Vino, CSIC-Logroño) have uncovered the genetic basis of the ability of mites to feed on many different plants. The spider mite is able to multiply and evolved new strategies for the detoxification of plant toxic molecules and most surprisingly, this specie also “highjacks” the detoxification genes from bacteria, fungi and plants to combat the plant defence incorporating them into its own genome.
The participation of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in this project, together with the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas (CIB-CSIC), has dealt in unveiling the components of the digestive physiology of the spider mite which allow its poliphagous pattern of feeding and facilitates the adaptation to complete its life cycle on leaves from a wide range of plants, commented Isabel Díaz, scientist at the CBGP as well as Professor at the ETSI Agrónomos of the UPM. Additionally, the results from this work hare the key for increasing insights about the spider mite ability to feed on more than 1,100 plant species, and based on them to develop new strategies of pest control that in a near future will reduce the use of conventional pesticides, concludes Dra. Diaz.
Silk for nano-materials
Even though the spider mite is an important and harmful pest, Grbics´s group, in collaboration with nano-physicists Marisela Velez (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) found a novel beneficial feature of the spider mite, the spider mite silk. The silk produced by spider mites is a natural nano-material of extreme lightness that has potential uses as reinforcement in composite materials (for example, in the auto and aeronautic industries), nano-devices and nano-probes for investigating the function of the cell, and as a matrix for tissue engineering and drug delivery.
Miodrag Grbic et al. “The genome of Tetranychus urticae reveals herbivorous pest adaptations”. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature1064