Parasitic Wasps and Genetics

Parasitic Wasps and Genetics


This is the University of Rochester. This paper is about the first full genome sequencing for parasitic wasps, and we’ve learned a lot just from looking at their DNA, and it’s setting the stage for a lot of important work to follow. Parasitic wasps are these very small insects – most people don’t even know of their existence – but they play an incredible role in maintaining low numbers of pest insects out in nature. So they are an underrecognized group that is extremely important for natural systems and agricultural systems. Right now what we do is we broadcast basically toxins into our environment – pesticides, to control in a very non-specific way a large number of pests. As a result their environment is exposed to these toxins, and we are as well. Another really exciting finding is that these insects have a particular way of manipulating their DNA called “methylation.” That turns genes on and off, which is unlike the standard insect model which are the fruit flies which don’t have this mechanism, these insects do. So that among other features makes them a very good genetic model for studying how genes get turned on and off. How genes get turned on and off determines what their roles are in development, inappropriate expression of genes can play a role in diseases, many of the same genes that occur in humans are also found in insects, so we can use insects as a model to understand human biology as well. There are a couple of interesting features of this project that make it really useful for looking at evolution. Rather than sequencing the genome for just one species, we sequence the genomes of three very closely related species. And so by comparing them, we’re able to see what are the kinds of genes that are changing very rapidly, on a short evolutionary timescale, and how does that relate to how a new species might arise. This is the University of Rochester.

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