Genetic variability of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci and its secondary endosymbionts in the Arabian Peninsula

  • Alaa I. Ragab

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The whitefly Bemisia tabaci species complex has been well documented as one of the most economically important emergent plant virus vectors, through serious feeding damage to its broad range of plant hosts and transmission of plant viruses to important agricultural crops. It has been shown to have associations with endosymbionts which have significant effects on the insect fitness. The purpose of this study was to provide information for the biotype and secondary endosymbiont distribution for B. tabaci populations in the relatively unstudied Arabian peninsula. The geographical localization and variation in endosymbiont populations across the region were identified using a sequence-driven analysis of the population genetics of the secondary endosymbiont. Live field specimens were collected from 22 different locations in the region and preserved in 70% ethanol for genetic studies. Previously established procedures were used to extract and purify total insect DNA from 24-30 individual whiteflies for each location (Frohlich et al., 1999; Chiel et al., 2007). Specimens were subjected to PCR amplification using the respective 16S rDNAprimers for the Rickettsia, Hamiltonella, and Wolbachia to amplify endosymbiont DNA. PCR was run with primers for the highly conserved whitefly mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene for biotyping. Samples were sequenced using the Sanger method and the data analyzed to correlate the presence, prevalence and geographical distribution of endosymbionts in B. tabaci. Phylogenies 5 were constructed to track evolutionary differences amongst the endosymbionts and insects and how they have influenced the evolution of the regional populations. Samples were characterized by differences in the genomes and endosymbionts of common whitefly ‘biotypes’ that have different host plant preferences, vector capacities and insecticide resistance characteristics. It was found that the B biotype is the predominant haplotype, with no evidence of the Q biotype. All endosymbionts were detected, with Hamiltonella as the most predominant. Several instances of co-infection by two or more endosymbionts were observed. Samples from the geographically isolated and mountainous region of Fayfa demonstrated higher genetic variability compared to the other locations, leading to the possible identification of a new haplotype, as well as the first time identification of the A biotype in the region.
Date of AwardMay 2013
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorNina Fedoroff (Supervisor)


  • Bemisia tabaci
  • whitefly
  • endosymbiont
  • arabian peninsula

Cite this