A Fungal Past to Insect Color

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Science  30 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5978, pp. 574-575
DOI: 10.1126/science.1190417

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Many animals recognize and respond to the environment, foods, and enemies by making use of visual cues. Hence, animal body color is an ecologically important trait, often involved in prey-predator interactions through mimicry, aposematism (colors that warn), and crypsis (camouflage) (1). In the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum, an insect that destroys plants by feeding on the sap, red and green color insects frequently coexist in natural populations (see the figure). Among its major natural enemies, lady beetles preferentially attack red aphids on green plants (2), whereas parasitoid wasps deposit eggs in green aphids more frequently (3). It has been hypothesized that these opposite predation and parasitism pressures maintain the color variation in natural aphid populations. This represents one of the classical views on the evolutionary ecology of animal color polymorphism (1). On page 624 of this issue, Moran and Jarvik (4) report an unexpected layer interwoven under this well-known evolutionary scenario: Genes transferred from a fungus to the aphid genome underlie the red and green coloration.