Some parasitic wasps may be no bigger than the head of a pin, but their genetics have plenty to teach us, a new study in Science says.
A research team has sequenced the genomes of three different species of parasitic wasp. Why bother with these tiny insects? For starters, genetics is easy. Females, like humans, carry two copies of every chromosome. But males develop from unfertilized eggs, which only carry one of each. With only one copy, even recessive mutations will be easy to identify and characterize [Ars Technica].
Parasitic wasps, then, make for an interesting science experiment. But their genetics could hold practical secrets, too. These wasps are deadly to many insects that bother us by attacking crops or livestock. “If we can harness their full potential, they would be vastly preferable to chemical pesticides which broadly kill or poison many organisms in the environment, including us,” Werren said in a statement [San Francisco Chronicle].
Also, don’t be surprised if other surprises turn up. Scientists have already documented that parasitic wasps have genes related to smallpox and other viruses, though they aren’t certain exactly what those genes do. A different Science study earlier in the year, though, said that some parasitic wasps may have gotten their poison from ancient viruses.
Parasitic wasps are nasty creatures—DISCOVER has documented their creepy habit of turning other animals in zombies. But nastiness aside, lead research John Werren says, we ought to be thankful for these wasps and their bloodlust: “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” [AFP].
80beats: Parasitic Wasps Got Their Poison From an Ancient Virus
80beats: Caterpillars Beware: Parasitic Wasps Come in a Wide Variety
DISCOVER: Zombie Animals and the Parasites That Control Them, a gallery of great creepiness
Image: flickr / wormwould