In just six years, bacteria in the genus Rickettsia spread through a population of the sweet potato whitefly (Bemisia tabaci), an invasive pest of global importance. Infected insects lay more eggs, develop faster and are more likely to survive to adulthood compared to their uninfected peers.
The discoveries were made by a University of Arizona-led team of scientists and are published in the April 8 issue of the journal Science.
"It's instant evolution," said Molly Hunter, a professor of entomology in the UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the study's principal investigator. "Our lab studies suggest that these bacteria can transform an insect population over a very short time."