New research reveals that genes on the insect genome resulting from horizontal gene transfer contribute to the synthesis of the cell envelope of a bacterial endosymbiont

Mealybug 500New research involving the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield has revealed that genes on the genome of mealybug insects, resulting from horizontal gene transfer, have been acquired from bacterial species during evolution. 

Bringing together scientists from the University of Montana, the California Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the University of Sheffield, this new work explored the unusual triple symbiotic relationship between mealybug insects (Planococcus citri) and two bacteria: Candidatus Tremblaya princeps, and Candidatus Moranella endobia, which reside within the cytoplasm of Tremblaya.

The study, Peptidoglycan production by an insect-bacterial mosaic published today in Cell investigated the existence of a mosaic peptidoglycan biosynthetic pathway resulting from horizontal gene transfer, a process similar to that underpinning the function of organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts.The work revealed that genes on the insect genome work together with genes on the Moranella genome to produce a component of the bacterial envelope called peptidoglycan, exclusively found at the Moranella cell periphery, a fascinating example of horizontal gene transfer, where functional bacterial genes have been acquired by insects.

Dr Stéphane Mesnage from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology said: “This work is a perfect example of a successful multidisciplinary research involving researchers with complementary expertise.The formal identification of peptidoglycan around Moranella cells has required access to cutting-edge technologies such as NanoSIMS and high-resolution LC-MS/MS. I was delighted to contribute to this work, using the methodology we have been developing at the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Mark Collins and Adelina Acosta Martin at the biOMICS facility.” 

Read the full paper published in Cell: Peptidoglycan production by an insect-bacterial mosaic

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Dr Stéphane Mesnage

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