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NIFA-funded Researchers Analyze the Pea Aphid Genome

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2010 – Producers have long been fighting off pea aphids, which are small, green insects that feed on the sap of several legumes such as peas, alfalfa and other forage crops. These aphids cause direct plant damage while also transmitting viruses, causing significant crop losses.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded a team of researchers at the University of Miami to collaborate on the annotation of the pea aphid’s genome, which was recently sequenced with funding from the National Institutes of Health.  Gene annotation studies help scientists determine the location of genes and understand what these genes do. Once the genes relevant to pest control have been identified, studies on gene function become possible.  These genes can then be manipulated for future development of novel methods to control aphids. 

These gene annotation studies led to the analysis of several genes important to the pea aphid’s ecological associations with plants and microbes. For example, genes were identified that allow this insect to transmit plant viruses into crops while other genes that were found encode for proteins that overcome the plant’s ability to defend itself from attack. 

The researchers will further exploit the genome data to understand the complex biology of pea aphids, which will help to design control measures for several other aphid species that impact U.S. agriculture.

The gene annotation work was partially funded by the NIFA through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Arthropods and Nematodes Tools, Resources and Genomics program.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.  More information is at: www.nifa.usda.gov.

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