AUG 01, 2021 7:13 AM PDT

Some Insects Can Fight Off Parasites with Genes From a Virus

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The microbes of the world are constantly in competition, and are said to be locked in an evolutionary arms race. Their battles often involve host species as well. One example is the relationship between lepidoptera (an insect group that includes moths and butterflies), and the viruses and parasitic wasps that infect them. Genes can be swapped among these organisms to create a dynamic of adaptation and counteradaption.

Image credit: Pixnio

Researchers have now gained some insight into this relationship. Reporting in Science, they determined that a virus that infects the lepidopterans can help protect them from parasitic wasps that try to use the lepidopterans as a place to deposit and grow their eggs, a nasty situation for the lepitopterans. Parasitic wasps already have mechanisms to help them overcome the defenses of the lepidoptera insects. But the entomopathogenic virus seems to inhibit the development of the wasp larvae. To do so, the virus uses a gene called parasitoid killing factor (pkf), which is sometimes incorporated into the host lepidoptera genome.

"We identified insect-specific viruses that encode proteins that inhibit the development of competing parasites," said study co-author Dr. Martin Erlandson Ph.D., an adjunct professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

The researchers also found similar genes in caterpillars. This could indicate that there were several horizontal gene transfers in which the genetic instructions for a toxic protein were shared among viruses and their caterpillar host. The gene can help viruses outcompete a parasite, and sometimes, the insect will add that gene to their own genome.

"Large populations of insects can be the targets of multiple parasites and pathogens resulting in a biological arms race where parasite and pathogen compete for the same host as well as the host evolving defenses against these agents," Erlandson explained.

The pkf genes discovered in this study appear to be a novel gene family. Learning more about them might help scientists develop more environmentally-friendly pest control techniques by using the relationship between viruses and parasites, suggested Erlandson.

The scientists also determined that when an agriculturally destructive insect called the northern armyworm was infected with entomopoxvirus, the larva of a parasitic wasp that uses the insects would die.

Sources: Phys.org via University of Saskatchewan, Science

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUL 21, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
A diet rich in phytoestrogens can help combat inflammation in multiple sclerosis.
JUL 21, 2021
A diet rich in phytoestrogens can help combat inflammation in multiple sclerosis.
Close to one million people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic, neuroinflamma ...
JUL 28, 2021
Plants & Animals
Is This the Oldest Animal Ever Found?
JUL 28, 2021
Is This the Oldest Animal Ever Found?
Professor Elizabeth C. Turner of Laurentian University may have discovered the oldest animal fossil ever, as reported in ...
AUG 02, 2021
Microbiology
The Unique Microbiomes of Long-Lived People
AUG 02, 2021
The Unique Microbiomes of Long-Lived People
What's the secret of people that live a long life? The answer may be complex but for some, it could include the microbio ...
AUG 24, 2021
Microbiology
Sugars in Breast Milk May Help Prevent Infections in Newborns
AUG 24, 2021
Sugars in Breast Milk May Help Prevent Infections in Newborns
Research has indicated that babies get many benefits from breastmilk, even if they are only fed that way for a very shor ...
SEP 14, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
HIV Self-Test App Proves Promising
SEP 14, 2021
HIV Self-Test App Proves Promising
A new app allows users to self-test for HIV, which has proven to help positive patients get access to medical care and c ...
SEP 14, 2021
Immunology
The Spleen Creates Long-Lasting Protection Against the Flu Virus
SEP 14, 2021
The Spleen Creates Long-Lasting Protection Against the Flu Virus
You share an elevator with an individual who is coughing and sneezing, only to find yourself feeling unwell a few days l ...
Loading Comments...