Transcript expression plasticity as a response to alternative larval host plants in the speciation process of corn and rice strains of Spodoptera frugiperda.
Background: Our main purpose was to evaluate the expression of plastic and evolved genes involved in ecological speciation in the noctuid moth Spodoptera frugiperda, the fall armyworm (FAW); and to demonstrate how host plants might influence lineage differentiation in this polyphagous insect. FAW is an important pest of several crops worldwide, and it is differentiated into host plant-related strains, corn (CS) and rice strains (RS). RNA-Seq and transcriptome characterization were applied to evaluate unbiased genetic expression differences in larvae from the two strains, fed on primary (corn) and alternative (rice) host plants. We consider that genes that are differently regulated by the same FAW strain, as a response to different hosts, are "plastic". Otherwise, differences in gene expression between the two strains fed on the same host are considered constitutive differences. Results: Individual performance parameters (larval and pupal weight) varied among conditions (strains vs. hosts). A total of 3657 contigs was related to plastic response, and 2395 contigs were differentially regulated in the two strains feeding on preferential and alternative hosts (constitutive contigs). Three molecular functions were present in all comparisons, both down- and up-regulated: oxidoreductase activity, metal-ion binding, and hydrolase activity. Conclusions: Metabolization of foreign chemicals is among the key functions involved in the phenotypic variation of FAW strains. From an agricultural perspective, high plasticity in families.