Probing the Molecular Interactions Between Western Flower Thrips and the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Probing the Molecular Interactions Between Western Flower Thrips and the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Back in October of 2020, we wrote about the newly published research of an international team of scientists involving the genome analysis of the western flower thrips, an invasive global agricultural pest that feeds on plants and spreads viruses.

Fifty-seven scientists from five continents, including UC Davis distinguished professor-entomologist Diane Ullman, co-authored the article, “Genome-Enabled Insights into the Biology of Thrips as Crop Pests,” published in the journal BMC Biology.

The project leader and first author? Ullman's longtime colleague and collaborator, Professor Dorith Rotenberg of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University (NCSU). (See news story)

Fast forward to next week, when Professor Rotenberg will present a seminar sponsored by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology on “Advances and Innovations in the Characterization of Molecular Interactions Between Frankliniella occidentalis and Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.”

Her seminar, with Ullman introducing her,  begins at 4:10 p.m., Monday, Feb. 26 in 122 Briggs Hall. It also will be on Zoom. The Zoom link:

 “Arthropod-transmitted plant pathogens cause crippling monetary losses to U.S. and global economies," Rotenberg writes in her seminar abstract. "Tomato spotted wilt virus (Order Bunyavirales, family Tospoviridae, genus Orthotospovirus) is one of those pathogens, and it is transmitted in a circulative-propagative manner by Frankliniella occidentalis, the principal thrips vector. The overarching goal of my research program is to contribute fundamental knowledge towards developing alternative, effective and innovative tools for diminishing vector-transmitted crop diseases. My lab has been on the forefront of generating and sharing vector ‘omics resources to enable the identification and characterization of molecular determinants of vector competence as a means to specifically disrupt the virus transmission cycle. Using a combination of proteomic, transcriptomic and functional tools developed by my team and collaborators for F. occidentalis and TSWV, we aim to drill down on gut proteins associated with thrips host response to virus activities (indirect interactions) and/or gut proteins that physically interact with the viral attachment protein (GN) (direct)."

My talk," Rotenberg continued, "will cover research advances made towards identifying and functionally characterizing two promising gut-expressed proteins, and new tools to interrogate F. occidentalis genes associated with virus transmission.” She co-directs the NCSU Plant Virus Vector Interactions Lab.

Rotenberg holds three degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison: a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry and her master's and doctorate in plant pathology. 

The western flower thrips, native to Western North America,  causes billions of dollars a year in damage worldwide.  About the size of a pinhead, the insect feeds on a wide array of food, fiber, and ornamental crops and transmits plant viruses that cause significant economic damage. 

“The western flower thrips and the viruses it transmits, including tomato spotted wilt virus, is important to California agriculture, causing serious problems for tomato growers, pepper growers and growers of leafy greens,” Ullman says.  The tomato spotted wilt virus infects more than 1000 plant species, ranging from tomatoes, tobacco and peanuts to pansies and chrysanthemums.  (See Ullman's work on her website)

For Zoom technical issues, contact seminar coordinator Brian Johnson, associate professor, at The list of department seminars for the winter quarter is here.