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Genome advances peril for pests
Date:1/14/2010

Parasitic wasps kill pest insects, but their existence has been largely overlooked by the public until now. Four researchers from Arizona State University are among a consortium of 157 scientists (the Nasonia Genome Working Group) led by John Werren, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester, and Stephen Richards at the Genome Sequencing Center at the Baylor College of Medicine, who have sequenced the genomes of three parasitoid wasp species. The genomes reveal many features that could be useful in pest control, medicine and the understanding of genetics and evolution. The study appears in the Jan. 15 issue of Science.

Plaguing pests

Parasitoid wasps females are like "smart bombs" they seek out specific insect, tick or mite hosts, inject venom and lay their eggs, with the wasp young emerging to devour the host insect; traits that make them valuable assets as agents for biological control.

"Parasitic wasps attack and kill pest insects, but many of them are smaller than the head of a pin, so people don't notice them or know of their important role in keeping pest numbers down," says Werren. "There are over 600,000 species of these amazing critters, and we owe them a lot. If it weren't for parasitoids and other natural enemies, we would be knee-deep in pest insects."

The three genomes sequenced are in the wasp genus Nasonia, which is considered to be the "lab rat" of parasitoid insects. The study's architects suggest that the genomes could enhance pest control by providing information about which insects a parasitoid will attack, the dietary needs of parasitoids (to assist in economical, large-scale rearing of parasitoids) and identification of parasitoid venoms. Because parasitoid venoms manipulate cell physiology in diverse ways, they may also provide an unexpected source for new drug development.

Genetic toolkit

In ASU's School of Life Sciences, Nasonia<
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Contact: Margaret Coulombe
margaret.coulombe@asu.edu
480-727-8934
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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