A tale of two transcriptomic responses in agricultural pests via host defenses and viral replication.
Autographa californica Multiple Nucleopolyhedrovirus (AcMNPV) is a baculovirus that causes systemic infections in many arthropod pests. The specific molecular processes underlying the biocidal activity of AcMNPV on its insect hosts are largely unknown. We describe the transcriptional responses in two major pests, Spodoptera frugiperda (fall armyworm) and Trichoplusia ni (cabbage looper), to determine the host-pathogen responses during systemic infection, concurrently with the viral response to the host. We assembled species-specific transcriptomes of the hemolymph to identify host transcriptional responses during systemic infection and assessed the viral transcript abundance in infected hemolymph from both species. We found transcriptional suppression of chitin metabolism and tracheal development in infected hosts. Synergistic transcriptional support was observed to suggest suppression of immune responses and induction of oxidative stress indicating disease progression in the host. The entire AcMNPV core genome was expressed in the infected host hemolymph with a proportional high abundance detected for viral transcripts associated with replication, structure, and movement. Interestingly, several of the host genes that were targeted by AcMNPV as revealed by our study are also targets of chemical insecticides currently used commercially to control arthropod pests. Our results reveal an extensive overlap between biological processes represented by transcriptional responses in both hosts, as well as convergence on highly abundant viral genes expressed in the two hosts, providing an overview of the host-pathogen transcriptomic landscape during systemic infection.