What a difference a gene makes

When you see a wasp fly by you can either hurt it [buy your ticket to hell], let it be [get closer to Buddha] or examine its every detail.

Not sure about the religious implications of that last option, but apparently it can get your name in Science.

wasp gene biodiversityAnd for David Loehlein [image credit] of the University of Wisconsin and John Werren of the University of Rochester that has not been the first time either.

We have to warn you though. When it comes to Apocrita we have our special concerns – like honey bee CCD – and our own cuddly little favorites – like Cockerell’s bumblebee. Nasonia wasps however are a little less sweet. These enjoy stinging defenseless juvenile flies to lay their eggs inside them. Not so nice. Fortunate thing for the flies is one of the Nasonia wasps has lost the ability to fly – but thus far only the males, it seems.

That difference got the two researchers wondering – and they now think they have found the wasp’s wing development is all down to the activation of a single gene. Replacing that gene in the flightless wasp got it to grow wings twice as long.

“It is possible that the diversity of size and shape differences between other animal species have similar origins in regulator DNA. And the gene we identified is thought to control growth in many other animals, including people,” Loehlin says of the study.

Better understanding of such regulatory genes could also help in the fight against common diseases, like cancer and diabetes, the researchers think.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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