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Humble vinegar fly’s genes could help combat pest species

The humble vinegar fly you see hanging around your fruit at home may well be considered just a nuisance, however Australian scientists studying its genes are hoping to shed light on ways to combat the invasive pest species the Australian sheep blowfly.

Professor Coral Warr from the Tasmanian School of Medicine’s Medical Sciences Program is collaborating with colleagues in a bid to better understand the odorant receptor gene family of the Australian sheep blowfly.

“Every year, insects transmit disease to millions of people and cause enormous losses to the world’s agricultural output,” Professor Warr said.

The Australian sheep blowfly is a constant threat for the Australian wool industry in terms of control costs, production losses and damage to its reputation.

The Australian sheep blowfly is the main cause of fly-strike in sheep. Here, the fly lays its eggs on the sheep, where once hatched, the maggots eat the flesh of the sheep.

“The industry uses insecticides and mulesing as management strategies towards the pest, however these present significant environmental and animal welfare concerns,” Professor Warr said.

“We know the behaviours of many insects are guided by their sense of smell, so if we can understand blowfly odour receptors better, and what type of chemicals they detect, we can hopefully provide further insights into managing the pest.”

The research project, funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, will compare the genes of the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster, a versatile and useful laboratory organism, with those of the Australian sheep blowfly.

“The vinegar fly and the Australian sheep blowfly are just the right evolutionary distance apart for us to conduct informative comparative genomics studies, which will help us understand how the receptors work,” Professor Warr said.

“In particular, how the proteins bind odour molecules, which is not well understood. Our findings will be relevant to all insects, including those that transmit many human and animal diseases, such as mosquitoes”.

Professor Warr is based in the University’s College of Health and Medicine, and will collaborate with researchers from the University of Melbourne and New Zealand and American universities to carry out the project.

Published on: 20 Mar 2020 8:38am