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Missed citations

Recently we published a paper in Cell on a plant detoxification gene acquired by whiteflies through horizontal gene transfer (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867421001641). We have since been rightfully criticized for failing to cite the 2020 paper by Lapadula et al. in Scientific Reports (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-72267-1). We were also made aware that we missed an earlier paper by Sharma et al. in F1000Res  (https://f1000research.com/articles/4-1523/v1). In both papers the authors provide convincing bioinformatic and molecular evidence for gene transfer from plant to whitefly and mosquito, respectively. Both papers are very much related to our study and we should therefore have referred to them. We are working with the Cell production team on a formal correction in the journal.

We wish to stress that we stand by everything that is presented in our Cell publication. In the paper we use an array of techniques to dissect the function of the transferred gene and focus on how it may explain the extremely polyphagous nature of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci. We emphasize the implications of our findings for evolutionary theory and the potential for crop protection strategies. We make no claim to be the first to find evidence for horizontal gene transfer from plant to insect.

In interviews with the media we were less careful, which resulted in articles announcing the first plant-to-animal gene transfer. This is not accurate. Although we provide unprecedented evidence for the functional role of a plant-derived gene in insects, the strong evidence of purifying selection on a plant gene found in whitefly by Lapadula et al. is equally convincing.

It would be tremendously unfortunate if five years of meticulous research by Prof. Zhang’s team of enthusiastic young scientists that led to this exciting discovery is overshadowed by a citation controversy. We much regret that we did not cite the above papers and hope that with this statement we can refocus the attention on the exciting scientific implications of all three studies.

Ted Turlings on behalf of all authors