Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evolutionary study of duplications of the miRNA machinery in aphids associated with striking rate acceleration and changes in expression profiles

Benjamín Ortiz-Rivas1, Stéphanie Jaubert-Possamai12, Sylvie Tanguy1, Jean-Pierre Gauthier1, Denis Tagu1 and Rispe Claude1*

Author Affiliations

1 INRA, UMR 1349 IGEPP, Le Rheu, 35653, France

2 INRA, UMR1355, Institut Sophia Agrobiotech, Sophia Antipolis, 06903, France

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:216  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-216

Published: 12 November 2012



The sequencing of the genome of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum revealed an unusual expansion of the miRNA machinery, with two argonaute-1, two dicer-1 and four pasha gene copies. In this report, we have undertaken a deeper evolutionary analysis of the phylogenetic timing of these gene duplications and of the associated selective pressures by sequencing the two copies of ago-1 and dcr-1 in different aphid species of the subfamily Aphidinae. We have also carried out an analysis of the expression of both copies of ago-1 and dcr-1 by semi-quantitative PCR in different morphs of the pea aphid life cycle.


The analysis has shown that the duplication of ago-1 occurred in an ancestor of the subfamily Aphidinae while the duplication of dcr-1 appears to be more recent. Besides, it has confirmed a pattern of one conserved copy and one accelerated copy for both genes, and has revealed the action of positive selection on several regions of the fast-evolving ago-1b. On the other hand, the semi-quantitative PCR experiments have revealed a differential expression of these genes between the morphs of the parthenogenetic and the sexual phases of Acyrthosiphon pisum.


The discovery of these gene duplications in the miRNA machinery of aphids opens new perspectives of research about the regulation of gene expression in these insects. Accelerated evolution, positive selection and differential expression affecting some of the copies of these genes suggests the possibility of a neofunctionalization of these duplicates, which might play a role in the display of the striking phenotypic plasticity of aphids.

Aphids; miRNAs; Gene duplication; Neofunctionalization