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Genome sequences for wasps will aid pest and disease control, provide new model organism

San Francisco State University


IMAGE: This female Nasonia wasp is stinging a fly pupal host and laying eggs within it. The offspring will emerge two weeks later and will subsequently hatch and kill the host... view more

Credit: Photo by Peter Koomen and Mathijs Zwier courtesy of Leo Beukeboom (Evolutionary Genetics, University of Groningen, The Netherlands)

Scientists have mapped the genomes for three kinds of parasitic wasps, providing a new genetic model system based on the Nasonia genus. The availability of these genome sequences will aid the analysis of complex genetic traits, such as skin color, as well as complex human diseases. Published in the Jan. 15 issue of Science, the findings may help advance our understanding of how to use these wasps as natural agents against agricultural pests and disease-carrying insects.

"These genome sequences will be a major tool for agricultural pest control," said Chris Smith, assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University and one of the study's authors. "Many people may not realize how dependent humans are on these tiny wasps which protect our food crops and save the U.S. billions of dollars each year by reducing crop loss."

An international consortium of scientists mapped the complete DNA sequences for three species in the Nasonia genus, a group of tiny parasitic wasps that are a quarter of the size of a fruit fly. The wasps lay their eggs on other insects, which then hatch and kill the host creature. Wasps in the Nasonia genus are particularly suited to genetic research because the males develop from unfertilized eggs. Since they only have one copy of each gene, scientists can immediately see the effects of mutant genes, while in most species the second copy of the gene can hide problems in a mutant gene.


"Functional and Evolutionary Insights from the Genomes of Three Parasitoid Nasonia Species" was published in the Jan. 15, 2010 issue of the journal Science. The research was led by Professor John Werren from the University of Rochester. The research team included Chris Smith, assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University and Henry Hunter and Jay Kim, both graduate students at San Francisco State University. See the paper for a complete author list.

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