Molecular markers for the identification and global tracking of whitefly vector-Begomovirus complexes

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Recent unprecedented upsurges in populations of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci (Genn.) have drawn much attention to its worldwide importance as an insect pest and as the vector of emergent begomoviruses (Family: Geminiviridae; Genus: Begomovirus). Several begomoviruses that are considered 'new' and others previously regarded as minor pathogens have been linked to recent epidemics. Recent studies have revealed much variation in begomoviruses, despite the view that DNA-containing viruses do not rapidly accumulate mutations. Also, certain B. tabaci 'variants' are known that more effectively or selectively transmit certain begomoviruses and exhibit biotic differences that may influence their spread. Patterns of distribution and dissemination of begomoviruses transmitted by B. tabaci are poorly understood because standardized molecular-based tracking methods have not been available. Understanding virus/whitefly vector/host plant interrelationships in the context of emerging problems can be achieved only by linking predicted evolutionary histories with epidemiology using molecular phylogenetic approaches. Identification and validation of informative molecular sequences are essential initial steps in this process. Genus-wide degenerate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers have been developed to amplify and sequence the 'core' region of the coat protein open reading frame (ORF) (V1), permitting 'universal' detection and provisional virus identification by comparisons with described viral genotypes. In subsequent studies reported here, several potentially informative viral ORFs and a non-coding region are explored. Of particular use for expanding diversity studies are group- or virus-specific sequences that can be targeted by utilizing newly available core CP sequences, or additional conserved regions around which broad spectrum primers can be designed to target variable sequences in key ORFs or non-coding regions. Prospective markers under exploration were selected with a basis in the most highly conserved viral ORFs, CP (V1) and a portion of replication-associated protein (REP) (L1/C1), and a key non-coding sequence that contain sufficient variability and/or virus-specific sequences, and are consequently of potential epidemiological relevance. Because B. tabaci occurs as a cryptic species, or species complex, that exhibits biotic polymorphism, yet morphological invariance, traditional morphologically based identification is impossible. An overriding complication to establishing molecular markers for identifying whitefly vector variants is that whitefly sequences in general, have not been available. However, recent work has shown that a partial mitochondria cytochrome oxidase I (mt COI) sequence separates vector variants with a basis in geographical origin, suggesting it is useful for further exploring variability and the phylogenetic history of whiteflies on a large scale. Here, the utility of whitefly mt COI nucleotides (nt) sequences is illustrated for inferring relationships between B. tabaci collected from major world regions. Used collectively, these approaches permit investigations of the patterns of distribution and dissemination of begomovirus-whitefly vector complexes for the first time. Ultimately, more immediate recognition of exotic viruses and whitefly vectors and early detection of upsurges in vector populations and of emerging viruses will be possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-260
Number of pages28
JournalVirus Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2000


  • Aleyrodidae
  • Bemisia tabaci
  • Emergent viruses
  • Geminiviridae
  • Geminiviruses
  • Insect vector
  • Invasive species
  • Molecular epidemiology
  • Sweetpotato whitefly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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