Pyrosequencing the transcriptome of the greenhouse whitefly, Trialeurodes vaporariorum reveals multiple transcripts encoding insecticide targets and detoxifying enzymes
© Karatolos et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2011
Received: 30 September 2010
Accepted: 24 January 2011
Published: 24 January 2011
The whitefly Trialeurodes vaporariorum is an economically important crop pest in temperate regions that has developed resistance to most classes of insecticides. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying resistance have not been characterised and, to date, progress has been hampered by a lack of nucleotide sequence data for this species. Here, we use pyrosequencing on the Roche 454-FLX platform to produce a substantial and annotated EST dataset. This 'unigene set' will form a critical reference point for quantitation of over-expressed messages via digital transcriptomics.
Pyrosequencing produced around a million sequencing reads that assembled into 54,748 contigs, with an average length of 965 bp, representing a dramatic expansion of existing cDNA sequences available for T. vaporariorum (only 43 entries in GenBank at the time of this publication). BLAST searching of non-redundant databases returned 20,333 significant matches and those gene families potentially encoding gene products involved in insecticide resistance were manually curated and annotated. These include, enzymes potentially involved in the detoxification of xenobiotics and those encoding the targets of the major chemical classes of insecticides. A total of 57 P450s, 17 GSTs and 27 CCEs were identified along with 30 contigs encoding the target proteins of six different insecticide classes.
Here, we have developed new transcriptomic resources for T. vaporariorum. These include a substantial and annotated EST dataset that will serve the community studying this important crop pest and will elucidate further the molecular mechanisms underlying insecticide resistance.
Whiteflies (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) are important pests of agriculture that feed on and transmit viruses to a wide range of crops. The two most damaging and widespread species are the tobacco or cotton whitefly (Bemisia tabaci Gennadius) and the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum Westwood).
One factor enhancing the pest status of whiteflies is their ability to evolve resistance to insecticides. Both B. tabaci and T. vaporariorum are known to exhibit resistance to several insecticide groups including the neonicotinoids, the most widely-used compounds for whitefly control [1, 2]. Insecticide resistance commonly arises through two main mechanisms 1) reduced binding of the insecticide to its target through target site mutation  (e.g. acetylcholinesterase for organophosphates/carbamates, the voltage-gated sodium channel for pyrethroids) and 2) enhanced metabolism or sequestration of insecticide by enzymes such as carboxyl-cholinesterases (CCEs), glutathione-S-transferases (GSTs) and cytochrome P450 monooxygenases [3–7].
CCEs, GSTs and P450s are encoded by large and diverse gene families that are difficult to fully characterise by traditional biochemical methods. Identification and cloning of genes encoding insecticide target sites composed of multiple subunit proteins (such as the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor) by degenerate PCR is also a lengthy and sometimes difficult process. The recent and rapid growth of the use of next generation sequencing has made it easier to study large complex genes or gene families such as insecticide target sites and those involved in detoxification of xenobiotics via the de novo sequencing of whole insect transcriptomes [8, 9]. Although there is a significant amount of genomic data for B. tabaci in this regard, including an expressed sequence tag (EST) library  and an ongoing genome project , very little comparable data for T. vaporariorum exist, with only 43 nucleotide sequences currently available at NCBI.
Cost-effective high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies such as 454-based pyrosequencing of ESTs are a powerful new approach to characterise the transcriptome of insect species that lack a fully sequenced genome [8, 9, 12]. The amount of sequence information generated by these methods also facilitates the global analysis of gene expression by providing a reference transcriptome for cDNA microarray design and/or Serial Analysis of Gene Expression (SAGE) [13, 14, 10]. Here, we have used 454-based pyrosequencing to generate a substantial EST dataset of the T. vaporariorum transcriptome and then characterised genes encoding detoxification enzymes and insecticide target proteins.
Results and discussion
454 pyrosequencing and assembly
Summary statistics for Trialeurodes vaporariorum EST assembly and annotation
Total number of reads
Number of reads after pre-processing
Average read length after pre-processing
Total number of contigs
Average contig length
Contigs with ORF ≥200 bp (average length)
30,552 (540 bp)
Average read coverage per contig
Average GC % content of contigs
% contigs with at least 1 GO term
% contigs with an EC number
% contigs with at least 1 IPR
Contigs with at least 1 blast hit against nr
% of those contigs with at least 1 IPR
% of those contigs with at least 1 GO term
Contigs with ORF ≥200 bp (average length)
18,080 (704 bp)
Contigs with no blast hits
% of those contigs with at least 1 GO term
% of those contigs with at least 1 IPR
Contigs with ORF ≥200 bp (average length)
12,472 (301 bp)
Homology searches, gene ontology and protein classification
The remaining 34,416 contigs that did not return a significant BLAST result against the NCBI nr database, had an average read length of 712 bp. More than 36% of those contigs (12,472 sequences) were found to have an ORF ≥200 bp, with an average length of 301 bp. 28% of these contigs (9,553 sequences) returned an InterPro result and 1.4% (488 sequences) returned a GO term (Table 1). These results give some indication of the limitation of BLAST comparison as a tool for inferring the relevant biological function of tentative unique genes assembled from sequencing data for species with very limited existing transcriptomic information. However, it is likely that the rapid expansion in sequence data from ongoing small and large scale insect sequencing projects will facilitate the future annotation of these genes.
Transcripts encoding genes involved in insecticide detoxification
Summary information for the identified cytochrome P450s, carboxyl/cholinesterases (CCEs) and glutathione-S transferases (GSTs) in the Trialeurodes vaporariorum transcriptome
Average ORF length
Number of identified contigs
Average contig size
Average reads per contig
Average coverage per contig
Trialeurodes vaporariorum 1
Acyrthosiphon pisum 2
Transcripts encoding putative P450s
Total cytosolic GSTs
CYP3 and CYP4 P450 families in other insect species are implicated in the metabolism of plant secondary metabolites and synthetic insecticides . In the other hemipterans B. tabaci and M. persicae, over-expression of cytochrome P450s (CYP6CM1 and CYP6CY3 respectively) contribute to resistance to neonicotinoid insecticides [17, 13]. The closest hits of these two P450s in T. vaporariorum are CYP6CM2, CYP6CM3 (68% and 67% similarity to CYP6CM1 respectively) and CYP6DP1, CYP6DZ1 (60% and 59% similarity to CYP6CY3 respectively). These genes and the other CYP3 and CYP4 P450 genes identified in this study are candidates for a potential role in neonicotinoid resistance in T. vaporariorum.
Although the number of P450s in the T. vaporariorum transcriptome (57) is within the range of P450s identified in other insect species (46-164) , additional P450 genes may await discovery due to their absence from the current transcriptomic dataset. Analysis of fully sequenced insect genomes have identified 164 P450s in Aedes aegypti Linnaeus (Diptera: Culicidae), 106 in Anopheles gambiae Giles (Diptera: Culicidae), 85 in Drosophila melanogaster Meigen (Diptera: Drosophilidae), 115 in the green peach aphid M. persicae, 83 in the green pea aphid A. pisum, and 46 in the western honey bee Apis mellifera Linnaeus (Hymenoptera: Apidae) [18–23]. The current number of 57 P450s in T. vaporariorum is at the lower end of this range, almost half of that for M. persicae.
Transcripts encoding putative CCEs
Clade A contains the largest number of identified T. vaporariorum CCEs (11 sequences), twice as many as in two other hemipteran species A. pisum and M. persicae (5 sequences each) . Of these, one CCE sequence (contig 12282) had a high homology to a carboxylesterase gene in B. tabaci (COE1; accession ABV45410), which is over-expressed in organophosphate-resistant strains  and another (contig 12863) was identified only in the imidacloprid resistant TV6 library and is therefore a candidate gene for a potential role in the neonicotinoid resistance of this strain. One identified sequence (contig 1172) had high homology to Lepidoptera-specific alpha esterase (C). Six sequences had homology to beta esterase (E) and two contigs were identified as acetylcholinesterases (AChE, clade J), which are the targets for organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. One of these, contig 19680, corresponds to a known AChE sequence of T. vaporariorum (ace-2; accession number CAE11223). Finally, other clades with identified T. vaporariorum homologues are glutactin (H), gliotactin (K), neuroligin (L), neurotactin (M) and an uncharacterised group (I).
Transcripts encoding putative GSTs
Detection of gene sequences encoding insecticide targets
Validated genes related to insecticide target sites in Trialeurodes vaporariorum.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR)
nAChR alpha 2 subunit
nAChR alpha 3 subunit
nAChR alpha 4 subunit
nAChR alpha 5 subunit
nAChR alpha 6 subunit
nAChR alpha 7 subunit
nAChR alpha 10 subunit
nAChR beta 1 subunit
Tetronic & Tetramic acid derivatives
Acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACCase)
Voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC)
Organochlorines, Phenylpyrazoles (Fiproles)
Glutamate-gated chloride channel (GluCl)
Diamides (chlorantraniliprole, cyanthraniliprole, flubendiamide)
Ryanodine receptor (RyR)
T. vaporariorum is an important agricultural pest that has developed resistance to several insecticides used for whitefly control. To date, the lack of genomics data available for this species has hampered characterisation of the molecular mechanisms underlying resistance. The ~55,000 non-redundant EST contigs described in this study represent a dramatic expansion of existing cDNA sequence available for T. vaporariorum. We have identified the genes and gene families that are potential candidates for conferring insecticide resistance in T. vaporariorum including those encoding enzymes putatively involved in metabolic detoxification of xenobiotics and those encoding the target proteins of the major chemical classes of insecticides. The EST contig library developed in this study can be used as a reference transcriptome for analysis of gene expression using cDNA microarray and/or SAGE. We plan to use these genomic resources to investigate the role of detoxifying enzymes and target-site modification in T. vaporariorum populations that are resistant to insecticides. However, more broadly the annotated EST library will facilitate the investigation of the fundamental biology of T. vaporariorum and its interactions with host plants. T. vaporariorum has a similar biology to B. tabaci, offering the prospect of sharing information on resistance mechanisms and other biological traits between these major crop pests.
Insects and RNA extraction
Whiteflies for the generation of cDNA libraries were obtained from two different strains of T. vaporariorum. One was an insecticide susceptible standard strain (TV1) and the other was a strain from Turkey (TV6) selected with a 1,000 ppm dose of the neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid (Confidor; Bayer CropScience). TV6 was collected from a greenhouse with a history of intensive insecticide use, although the complete treatment history is unknown for this strain. Insects were maintained on French bean plants, Phaseolus vulgaris L., cv. 'Canadian Wonder' (Fabaceae), under a 16h photoperiod at 24°C. More than 2,000 adults of each strain were collected in two separate 2 ml Eppendorf tubes and flash frozen in liquid nitrogen. Samples were sent to the University of Exeter (Cornwall Campus, Penryn, UK) in dry ice and stored at -80°C prior to RNA extraction.
RNA was isolated using TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen) according to the manufacturer's protocol. Genomic DNA contamination was removed by DNAse treatment (TURBO DNAse, Ambion) for 30 min at 37°C, RNA was further purified (RNeasy MinElute Clean up Kit, Qiagen) following the manufacturer's protocol and eluted in 20 μl of RNA storage solution (Ambion).
cDNA library preparation, sequence pre-processing and assembly
Two cDNA libraries were used in order to identify as many genes encoding detoxification enzymes as possible. This may have been influenced by differences in gene expression levels in the two libraries, despite the fact that both libraries were normalised. Another reason for the use of the two cDNA libraries was to look for potential SNPs in target-site genes associated with insecticide resistance. Full-length, enriched, cDNAs were generated from 2 μg total RNA (SMART PCR cDNA synthesis kit, BD Clontech) following the manufacturer's protocol. Reverse transcription was performed using the PrimeScript reverse transcription enzyme (Takara) for 60 min at 42°C and 90 min at 50°C. In order to reduce over-abundant transcripts, double-stranded cDNAs were normalised using the Kamchatka crab duplex-specific nuclease method (Trimmer cDNA normalisation kit, Evrogen) . Two aliquots, one of each of the normalised cDNA libraries, were 454 sequenced at the Advanced Genomics facility at the University of Liverpool. The two cDNA libraries were tagged prior to sequencing using molecular barcodes (Multiplex Identifiers, Roche Applied Sciences). A single full plate run (using both the TV1 and TV6 cDNA tagged libraries) was performed on the 454 GS-FLX Titanium series pyrosequencer (Roche Applied Science) using 3 μg of normalised cDNAs processed by the "shotgun" method. For raw reads pre-processing (removal of Poly-A tails and SMART adapters) and assembly, the custom pipeline est2assembly was used . A pool of the processed reads from both cDNA libraries (TV1 and TV6) were clustered using the MIRA v2.9.26x3 assembler with the "de novo, normal, EST, 454" parameters, specifying a minimum read length of 40 nt, a minimum sequence overlap of 40 nt, and a minimum percentage overlap identity of 80%.
Blast homology searches and sequence annotation
Blast homology searches and sequence annotations were carried out following a method that was successfully used for a midgut transcriptome of the tomato hornworm, Manduca sexta Linnaeus (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) . BLAST2GO software v.2.3.1 (http://www.blast2go.org) was used to perform several analyses of the EST assembly (contigs) . Initially, homology searches were performed remotely on the NCBI server through QBLAST in a sequential strategy. Firstly, contig sequences were searched via BLASTx against the NCBI non-redundant (nr) database, using an E-value cut-off of 1E-3 and selecting predicted polypeptides of a minimum length of 10 amino acids. Secondly, the sequences that did not receive any BLASTx hit were searched via BLASTn against the NCBI nr nucleotide database using an E-value cut-off of 1E-10. Also, BLASTx searches with an E-value cut-off of 1E-5 were performed against the D. melanogaster uniprot (100) database. For gene ontology mapping (GO; http://www.geneontology.org), the program extracts the GO terms associated with homologies identified with NCBI's QBLAST and returns a list of GO annotations represented as hierarchical categories of increasing specificity. BLAST2GO allows the selection of a significance level for the false discovery rate, here used at a 0.05% probability level cut-off. GO terms were modulated using the annotation augmentation tool ANNEX , followed by GOSlim. GOSlim consists of a subset of the GO vocabulary encompassing key ontological terms and a mapping function between the full GO and the GOSlim. Here, we used the 'generic' GOSlim mapping term (goslim_generic.obo) available in BLAST2GO. Enzyme classification (EC) codes, and KEGG (Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes) metabolic pathway annotations, were generated from the direct mapping of GO terms to their enzyme code equivalents. Finally, InterPro (InterProScan, EBI) searches were performed remotely from BLAST2GO via the InterPro EBI web server. Potential ORFs (open reading frames) were identified using the ORF-predictor server (http://proteomics.ysu.edu/tools/OrfPredictor.html) . An ORF cut-off of 200 bp was used.
Manual curation of genes of interest, phylogenetic analysis and SNP identification
Contigs that had a protein motif of a cytochrome P450 or a protein domain of a CCE or a GST, as well as contigs that corresponded to the target sites of the most important chemical classes of insecticides were searched by BLASTn against all the assembled processed reads (http://www.rfc.ex.ac.uk/iceblast/iceblast.php) using an E-value cut-off of 1E-4. Each contig was reassembled from the reads that returned a BLAST hit and manually curated using Geneious software v.4.8.5 (Biomatters Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand), to check for potential frame-shifts and SNPs. Nucleotide sequences were dynamic translated using the EXPASY Proteomics Server (http://www.expasy.ch/tools/dna.html, Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics). All the identified sequences were searched by BLASTx against all the assembled contigs in the iceblast server using an E-value cut-off of 1E-4 and the results with more than 99% similarity with the query sequence were eliminated as allelic variants (note that from those sequences, only the longest contigs with the best coverage were manually curated). MEGA 4.0 software  was used to perform multiple sequence alignment of P450s, CCEs, GSTs and nAChRs prior to phylogenetic analysis and to construct consensus phylogenetic trees using the neighbour-joining method. Bootstrap analysis of 1,000 replication trees was performed in order to evaluate the branch strength of each tree. The manually curated re-assembled contigs that encoded an insecticide target were investigated for the presence of SNPs arising due to nucleotide divergence between the two strains.
The raw nucleotide reads obtained by 454 sequencing were submitted to the Sequence Read Archive (SRA) database at NCBI with accession number SRA024353.1. An assembly of the T. vaporariorum data as well as the unassembled reads was uploaded to the InsectaCentral database (http://www.insectacentral.org/) and is searchable by BLAST at the following URL: http://www.rfc.ex.ac.uk/iceblast/iceblast.php. InsectaCentral is a central repository of insect transcriptomes, similar to the ButterflyBase, produced using traditional capillary sequencing or 454 pyrosequencing (NGS) . Note that the names of the validated enzymes (see additional files 5-8) are made from the letters Tv followed by the number of the contig from the InsectaCentral database (For example IC88556AaEcon23678 is called Tv23678).
The authors would like to acknowledge Rothamsted Research and University of Exeter colleagues for detailed scientific discussion. Nikos Karatolos was funded by a CASE PhD studentship from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) of the United Kingdom, with industrial support from Bayer CropScience. Rothamsted Research receives grant-aided support from the BBSRC.
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