The role of RNAs in insect-plant interactions


The green peach aphid Myzus persicae is an economically important pest of wide range of crops worldwide. This insect does not only cause feeding damage but also transmits over a 100 different plant viruses. There is a need to develop new methods to protect crops from aphids and other agricultural insect pests.

This project is a two-way collaboration between the laboratories of Saskia Hogenhout and Richard Morris (John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK) to study how aphid RNAs migrate within plants and modulate plant processes.

Generating this fundamental knowledge will be important for assessing how these insects establish intimate interactions with plants and how they efficiently transmit viruses. The project is likely to lead to the identification of new strategies to control sap-feeding insect pests that do not damage beneficial invertebrates, such as bees.

The project has the following three aims: (1) Annotate M. persicae RNAs that migrate systemically in plants; (2) Determine how aphid RNAs modulate aphid-plant interactions; and (3) Investigate mechanisms involved in systemic migration of aphid RNAs in plants.

The student will learn genomics and bioinformatics, a range of molecular biology skills, gene expression and protein purification methods, fluorescence microscopy analyses and bioassays with aphids and other insect pests. The student will be mainly based at the John Innes Centre. There will be plenty of opportunities to develop novel approaches to take the project beyond current knowledge and make new discoveries.

The student will be supervised by an experienced team of wet-lab scientists and bioinformaticians. The student will participate in weekly lab meetings to present his/her own work and discuss recent literature and contribute presentations in the departmental seminar series, and attend several (inter)national (virtual) conferences.


Chen Y., Singh A., Kaithakottil G.G., Mathers T. C., Gravino M., Mugford S. T., Van Oosterhout C., Swarbreck D. and Hogenhout S.A.* (2020). An aphid RNA transcript migrates systemically within plants and is a virulence factor. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 117: 12763-12771.

Morris R. J. (2018). On the selectivity, specificity and signalling potential of the long-distance movement of messenger RNA. Curr. Opin. Plant Biol. 43: 1-7.

Mathers T. C, Chen Y., et al., & Swarbreck D.* & Hogenhout S. A.* (2017). Rapid transcriptional plasticity of duplicated gene clusters enables a clonally reproducing aphid to colonize diverse plant species. Genome Biol. 18:27.