2008-2011 Intergrating Ecological, Evolutionary, and Genomic Analysis of Treehopper's Endosymbionts that Mediate Insect Herbivory. (NSC 97-2621-B-029-001-MY3)


Many plant-feeding insects, such as treehoppers (Hemiptera: Membracidae), are dependent on bacterial endosymbionts to supplement their nutrition (mainly essential amino acids): without symbionts, these treehoppers cannot grow or reproduce. These endosymbionts possess specialized physiological and genetic traits that allow them to better nourish their host treehoppers. Symbiosis between insects and bacterial endosymbionts provides a rich testing ground for comparative ecological and evolutionary studies. Although endosymbionts were hypothesized to play a central role in insect-plant interactions, including those affecting agricultural crops and forests like treehoppers, there are little evidences supporting this claim and the endosymbiont’s biology of insects is still little known. The proposed work would exploit recent developments in molecular biology, phylogenetics, and genomics to reveal the rich diversity of endosymbiotic fauna and the full range of endosymbiont effects on the biology of treehoppers. Approaches from ecological, evolutionary, and comparative genomics will be used to: 1) investigate the molecular characteristics of endosymbiotic microbiota (primary and secondary symbionts) and phylogenetic positions of endosymbionts in treehoppers; 2) understand the phylogeny and co-evolutionary patterns of primary endosymbionts and host treehoppers in the family Membracidae; 3) explore how gene content and gene structure of long-term endosymbionts affect nutrition and growth of host treehoppers. This project will impact several scientific fields, and the findings may provide basic information useful for both environmental and biotechnological applications.

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