Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Genomics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Parasitization by the wasp Eretmocerus mundus induces transcription of genes related to immune response and symbiotic bacteria proliferation in the whitefly Bemisia tabaci

Assaf Mahadav1, Dan Gerling2, Yuval Gottlieb3, Henryk Czosnek1 and Murad Ghanim3*

Author Affiliations

1 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, The Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture and the Minerva Otto Warburg Center for Agricultural Biotechnology, Rehovot, 76100, Israel

2 Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel

3 Institute of Plant Protection, Department of Entomology, Agricultural Research Organization, The Volcani Center, Bet Dagan 50250, Israel

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genomics 2008, 9:342  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-342

Published: 18 July 2008



The whitefly Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius) (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae), and the viruses it transmits, are a major constraint to growing vegetable crops worldwide. Although the whitefly is often controlled using chemical pesticides, biological control agents constitute an important component in integrated pest management programs, especially in protected agriculture. One of these agents is the wasp Eretmocerus mundus (Mercet) (Hymenoptera: Aphelinidae). E. mundus lays its egg on the leaf underneath the second-third instar nymph of B. tabaci. First instars of the wasp hatch and penetrate the whitefly nymphs. Initiation of parasitization induces the host to form a capsule composed of epidermal cells around the parasitoid. The physiological and molecular processes underlying B. tabaci-E. mundus interactions have never been investigated.


We used a cDNA microarray containing 6,000 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from the whitefly genome to study the parasitoid-whitefly interaction. We compared RNA samples collected at two time points of the parasitization process: when the parasitoid first instar starts the penetration process and once it has fully penetrated the host. The results clearly indicated that genes known to be part of the defense pathways described in other insects are also involved in the response of B. tabaci to parasitization by E. mundus. Some of these responses included repression of a serine protease inhibitor (serpin) and induction of a melanization cascade. A second set of genes that responded strongly to parasitization were bacterial, encoded by whitefly symbionts. Quantitative real-time PCR and FISH analyses showed that proliferation of Rickettsia, a facultative secondary symbiont, is strongly induced upon initiation of the parasitization process, a result that supported previous reports suggesting that endosymbionts might be involved in the insect host's resistance to various environmental stresses.


This is the first study to examine the transcriptional response of a hemipteran insect to attack by a biological control agent (hymenopterous parasitoid), using a new genomic approach developed for this insect pest. The defense response in B. tabaci involves genes related to the immune response as described in model organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster. Moreover, endosymbionts of B. tabaci appear to play a role in the response to parasitization, as supported by previously published results from aphids.