The evolution of resistance to insecticides threatens the sustainable control of many of the world’s most damaging insect crop pests and disease vectors. To effectively combat resistance, it is important to understand its underlying genetic architecture, including the type and number of genetic variants affecting resistance and their interactions with each other and the environment. While significant progress has been made in characterizing the individual genes or mutations leading to resistance, our understanding of how genetic variants interact to influence its phenotypic expression remains poor.
Here, we uncover a mechanism of insecticide resistance resulting from transposon-mediated insertional mutagenesis of a genetically dominant but insecticide-susceptible allele that enables the adaptive potential of a previously unavailable recessive resistance allele to be unlocked. Specifically, we identify clones of the aphid pest Myzus persicae that carry a resistant allele of the essential voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC) gene with the recessive M918T and L1014F resistance mutations, in combination with an allele lacking these mutations but carrying a Mutator-like element transposon insertion that disrupts the coding sequence of the VGSC. This results in the down-regulation of the dominant susceptible allele and monoallelic expression of the recessive resistant allele, rendering the clones resistant to the insecticide bifenthrin. These findings are a powerful example of how transposable elements can provide a source of evolutionary potential that can be revealed by environmental and genetic perturbation, with applied implications for the control of highly damaging insect pests.
- voltage-gated sodium channel