Retrotransposon-mediated evolutionary rewiring of a pathogen response orchestrates a resistance phenotype in an insect host

Zhaojiang Guo, Le Guo, Yang Bai, Shi Kang, Dan Sun, Jianying Qin, Fan Ye, Shaoli Wang, Qingjun Wu, Wen Xie, Xin Yang, Neil Crickmore, Xuguo Zhou, Youjun Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Ongoing host–pathogen interactions can trigger a coevolutionary arms race, while genetic diversity within the host can facilitate its adaptation to pathogens. Here, we used the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) and its pathogen Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) as a model for exploring an adaptive evolutionary mechanism. We found that insect host adaptation to the primary Bt virulence factors was tightly associated with a short interspersed nuclear element (SINE - named SE2) insertion into the promoter of the transcriptionally activated MAP4K4 gene. This retrotransposon insertion coopts and potentiates the effect of the transcription factor forkhead box O (FOXO) in inducing a hormone-modulated Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling cascade, leading to an enhancement of a host defense mechanism against the pathogen. This work demonstrates that reconstructing a cis–trans interaction can escalate a host response mechanism into a more stringent resistance phenotype to resist pathogen infection, providing a new insight into the coevolutionary mechanism of host organisms and their microbial pathogens.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2300439120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 the Author(s).


  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • FOXO transcription factor
  • Plutella xylostella
  • genetic variation
  • retrotransposon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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