Fruit Flies Are Vital Tools in Genetic Research

LarvaeIn November, OSU launched a website which will provide online access to the genome of a particularly destructive species, the invasive spotted wing drosophila. Scientists hope that access to this information will make it easier to use all those years of genetic testing to formulate ways to control the pest. You may not know it, but those annoying fruit flies of the genus drosophila that seem to constantly buzz around our beautifully ripe fruit are a long-standing tool in genetic research. The genetic attributes of these flies make them ideal model organisms for the study of genetics.

The genome of the spotted wing drosophila was sequenced by Joanna Chiu, David Begun, and Frank Zalom at the University of California at Davis, and the subsequent paper was co-authored by entomologist Vaughn Walton of the OSU Extension Service and assistant professor in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Department of Horticulture.

In November, Oregon State, with the help of Chiu, launched the website: spottedwingflybase.oregonstate.edu. The site provides scientists with the newly sequenced genome of the spotted wing drosophila. The expectation is that access to this information will reveal biological attributes which will allow researchers to identify tastes and odors that attract the fly in order to develop pheromone-based bait traps. Further research may result in the development of effective pesticides matched to biological attributes of the pest. The site has already seen traffic from researchers in dozens of countries, according to Walton.

The spotted wing drosophila, an Asian native, was detected in the United States in 2008. The females lay their eggs in ripe or ripening fruit which is consumed by the larvae as they grow. This action causes imperfections that ruin the value of the fruit, and according to Walton, has caused substantial losses in fruit crops throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. Access to the species’ genome may become a crucial component of the American fruit industry by facilitating the development of DNA tests to determine the presence of spotted wing larvae in fruit intended for export, thus decreasing the likelihood of unintentional invasion into regions the fly has not yet reached.

by Kristen Daly

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