Open Access Research article

A burst of ABC genes in the genome of the polyphagous spider mite Tetranychus urticae

Wannes Dermauw1*, Edward John Osborne2, Richard M Clark23, Miodrag Grbić45, Luc Tirry1 and Thomas Van Leeuwen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Crop Protection, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Ghent B-9000, Belgium

2 Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA

3 Center for Cell and Genome Science, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA

4 Department of Biology, The University of Western Ontario, London N6A 5B7, Canada

5 Instituto de Ciencias de la Vid y del Vino CSIC, Universidad de la Rioja, Logroño 26006, Spain

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:317  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-317

Published: 10 May 2013



The ABC (ATP-binding cassette) gene superfamily is widespread across all living species. The majority of ABC genes encode ABC transporters, which are membrane-spanning proteins capable of transferring substrates across biological membranes by hydrolyzing ATP. Although ABC transporters have often been associated with resistance to drugs and toxic compounds, within the Arthropoda ABC gene families have only been characterized in detail in several insects and a crustacean. In this study, we report a genome-wide survey and expression analysis of the ABC gene superfamily in the spider mite, Tetranychus urticae, a chelicerate ~ 450 million years diverged from other Arthropod lineages. T. urticae is a major agricultural pest, and is among of the most polyphagous arthropod herbivores known. The species resists a staggering array of toxic plant secondary metabolites, and has developed resistance to all major classes of pesticides in use for its control.


We identified 103 ABC genes in the T. urticae genome, the highest number discovered in a metazoan species to date. Within the T. urticae ABC gene set, all members of the eight currently described subfamilies (A to H) were detected. A phylogenetic analysis revealed that the high number of ABC genes in T. urticae is due primarily to lineage-specific expansions of ABC genes within the ABCC, ABCG and ABCH subfamilies. In particular, the ABCC subfamily harbors the highest number of T. urticae ABC genes (39). In a comparative genomic analysis, we found clear orthologous relationships between a subset of T. urticae ABC proteins and ABC proteins in both vertebrates and invertebrates known to be involved in fundamental cellular processes. These included members of the ABCB-half transporters, and the ABCD, ABCE and ABCF families. Furthermore, one-to-one orthologues could be distinguished between T. urticae proteins and human ABCC10, ABCG5 and ABCG8, the Drosophila melanogaster sulfonylurea receptor and ecdysone-regulated transporter E23. Finally, expression profiling revealed that ABC genes in the ABCC, ABCG ABCH subfamilies were differentially expressed in multi-pesticide resistant mite strains and/or in mites transferred to challenging (toxic) host plants.


In this study we present the first comprehensive analysis of ABC genes in a polyphagous arthropod herbivore. We demonstrate that the broad plant host range and high levels of pesticide resistance in T. urticae are associated with lineage-specific expansions of ABC genes, many of which respond transcriptionally to xenobiotic exposure. This ABC catalogue will serve as a basis for future biochemical and toxicological studies. Obtaining functional evidence that these ABC subfamilies contribute to xenobiotic tolerance should be the priority of future research.

Acari; RNA-seq; Microarray; Phase III detoxification; Duplication; Major facilitator superfamily