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Nouhaud Pierre

Genomics of host-plant adaptation in the pea aphid complex

PhD defended decembre 19th, 2014
Direction: Jean-Christophe Simon & Solenn Stoeckel

Abstract:

Natural selection is an evolutionary force that exerts a sorting of individuals based on their
phenotypes and their fitness. Its main consequence is the adaptation of living organisms to their
environment. Understanding by which mechanisms these organisms adapt to environmental
changes is a central goal in evolutionary biology with various applications including human health,
ecosystem protection or food production. Phytophagous insects represent valuable models in the
study of the adaptive process as they usually display high host plant specificity. The pea aphid
Acyrthosiphon pisum presents genetically differentiated and specialized sympatric biotypes
feeding on several wild and cultivated legume species. This work sought to identify genomic
regions involved in host plant adaptation in the pea aphid complex by performing genome scans
between distinct biotypes. These methods rely on the analysis of patterns of genetic polymorphism
to identify the molecular signatures of selection in the genomes and ultimately pinpoint genes
putatively involved in the adaptive process. Using such genome scan approaches, we identified a
small number of genes that could play a role in trophic adaptation. Some of these genes are
involved in the chemosensory system and in the salivary system, two functions respectively
involved in host choice and plant use. This work represents a very first step in the genomic study
of adaptation in the pea aphid complex and our study pave the way for functional genomics
analyses to validate the role of these candidate genes in preferential host plant use. Our work will
ultimately help to better understand the influence of adaptive divergence on the diversification of
phytophageous insects.