Researchers ID Disease-carrying Aphids

Nine aphid-cell proteins indicate aphids’ plant-virus-carrying capabilities, a USDA study finds.

by Dani Yokhna
Researchers have identified nine proteins in aphid cells that indicate their ability to carry plant viruses. Photo courtesy Whitney Cranshaw/Colorado State University (
Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw/Colorado State University
A new USDA study identified nine biomarker proteins in aphid cells that were linked to plant-virus-carrying capabilities.

Not all aphids are a threat to your farm crop. In a study performed by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, scientists used protein biomarkers to distinguish aphids that spread plant viruses from aphids that do not. The findings mark the first time that protein biomarkers have been linked to an insect’s ability to transmit viruses.

Aphid-transmitted viruses decrease crop yields and reduce the quality and quantity of fresh foods. If farmers can identify non-virus-transmitting aphids, they can reduce the amount of pesticides used on plants, reducing costs and negative effects to the soil.

The researchers knew from previous work that for aphids to pick up and transmit viruses, the virus must be able to interact with specific aphid proteins that direct movement of the virus through the insect and back into a plant during feeding. By studying greenbug aphids in the laboratory, they discovered that the lab-raised aphids’ ability to transmit yellow dwarf viruses was linked to the presence or absence of nine biomarker proteins found in the aphids’ cells.

The researchers then analyzed greenbug aphids collected from cereal crops and non-cultivated fields and found the aphids consistently transmitted yellow dwarf virus only when they carried most, if not all, of the nine proteins. The aphid does not need all nine proteins to spread the virus, but some are essential.

The discovery in the lab was published in the Journal of Virology, and the field-population study was reported in Proteomics. The findings are expected to lead to development of a test to identify potential disease vectors. Researchers are also collaborating on an expanded effort to test if biomarker-predictor proteins can be found in other insects.


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