Shoo fly, don't bother wheat
An international collaboration of researchers has sequenced the genome of the Hessian fly, whose larvae feed on wheat plants and are a major agricultural pest around the world. The grubs inject their saliva into wheat seedling stems, hijacking the plants and creating galls - clusters of abnormal tissue - that provide food for the larvae but stunt seedling growth.
Publishing in the journal Current Biology, the analysis shows that the fly's genome contains a large number of rapidly evolving genes that encode proteins that act as control switches inside cells, turning genes on and off. And these proteins are remarkably similar to wheat plant proteins, suggesting that they mimic normal wheat proteins in order to trick the plants into making galls. But at the same time, there seem to be genes in wheat that can also evolve quickly to counter this attack. In fact, around a third of the Hessian fly's genes don't seem to have a clear counterpart in other insect genomes, suggesting they are evolving fast as a result of this genetic arms race.
The scientists hope that the unveiling of the Hessian fly genome will lead to better ways of making wheat resistant to the pests, and providing farmers and plant breeders with more information about the best varieties of wheat to grow. Knowing more about the genes and proteins within the fly larvae might also point towards more effective, highly targeted pesticides or other control techniques in the future.