Genome expansion and differential expression of amino acid transporters at the aphid/Buchnera symbiotic interface

Daniel R.G. Price, Rebecca P. Duncan, Shuji Shigenobu, Alex C.C. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


In insects, some of the most ecologically important symbioses are nutritional symbioses that provide hosts with novel traits and thereby facilitate exploitation of otherwise inaccessible niches. One such symbiosis is the ancient obligate intracellular symbiosis of aphids with the γ-proteobacteria, Buchnera aphidicola. Although the nutritional basis of the aphid/Buchnera symbiosis is well understood, the processes and structures that mediate the intimate interactions of symbiotic partners remain uncharacterized. Here, using a de novo approach, we characterize the complement of 40 amino acid polyamine organocation (APC) superfamily member amino acid transporters (AATs) encoded in the genome of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. We find that the A. pisum APC superfamily is characterized by extensive gene duplications such that A. pisum has more APC superfamily transporters than other fully sequenced insects, including a ten paralog aphid-specific expansion of the APC transporter slimfast. Detailed expression analysis of 17 transporters selected on the basis of their phylogenetic relationship to five AATs identified in an earlier bacteriocyte expressed sequence tag study distinguished a subset of eight transporters that have been recruited for amino acid transport in bacteriocyte cells at the symbiotic interface. These eight transporters include transporters that are highly expressed and/or highly enriched in bacteriocytes and intriguingly, the four AATs that show bacteriocyte-enriched expression are all members of gene family expansions, whereas three of the four that are highly expressed but not enriched in bacteriocytes retain one-to-one orthology with transporters in other genomes. Finally, analysis of evolutionary rates within the large A. pisum slimfast expansion demonstrated increased rates of molecular evolution coinciding with two major shifts in expression: 1) a loss of gut expression and possibly a gain of bacteriocyte expression and 2) loss of expression in all surveyed tissues in asexual females. Taken together, our characterization of nutrient AATs at the aphid/Buchnera symbiotic interface provides the first examination of the processes and structures operating at the interface of an obligate intracellular insect nutritional symbiosis, offering unique insight into the types of genomic change that likely facilitated evolutionary maintenance of the symbiosis. The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup. com2011

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3113-3126
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • AAAP
  • APC
  • bacteriocyte
  • gene duplication
  • slimfast
  • symbiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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