Parasitic wasps are a large class of insects, whose success depends on venom factors and virus-like particles (VLPs). VLPs, produced by the wasps themselves have an obligatory relationship with their wasps. The focus of the project is to understand how L. heterotoma, a generalist parasitic wasp that infects Drosophila hosts across the genus, succeeds in nature. When introduced into Drosophila larvae, venom factors and VLPs of L. heterotoma wipe out the host?s immune system and the immune pathways remain' off'. In fact, VLPs enter the host's body cavity and destroy the fly's immature and mature blood cells. Blood cells carry out and coordinate immune functions of the fly host. D. melanogaster is by far the best-characterized insect and one of the most intensively-studied organisms. The investigators will utilize Drosophila genetics to explore why these generalist wasps succeed on a wide range of Drosophila species globally. By combining molecular and computational methods, the investigators will identify the cDNA clones corresponding to VLP proteins and inhibitory factors from L. heterotoma venom. They will compare the structures of these L. heterotoma molecules from venom of other, related wasp species. Using transgenic and genetic methods, they will analyze the inhibitory function of each protein in the fly's immune response. These studies will reveal how insect hosts and their parasites adapt to each other and shape the evolution of their community. In addition, because immune signaling in all insects is conserved, discoveries from this project can be used to restrict the spread of other insect species that compromise human health or destroy plants. The project will provide ample training opportunities for middle and high school students. Strains and assays will be used in lab-based Genetics courses of the Biology curriculum at CCNY. The cDNA sequence data will be used to develop bioinformatics projects for CCNY students. Sequences of L. heterotoma cDNAs will be deposited in NCBI and will be available to researchers worldwide.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Mary Beth Saffo
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CUNY City College
New York
United States
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