The Evolution of Wasp Wings

Uploaded by UniversityRochester on 20.02.2012

The basic question we’re trying to address with the research is to gain a better understanding of how,
when animals diverge in their morphology and development,
how that’s accomplished at the level of the genes.
The main thing that we learn from this research
is that a gene that had previously been studied in another insect
that was known to be involved in regulating growth in the specialization of cells,
was also playing a role in changing the size of the wings in these wasps.
So in effect what we’re doing is that we’re using the wings as a tool
for measuring genes that are involved in growth.
What we found was that there was this gene that has a distant similarity
to genes in humans and mice that regulate growth, immunity, and cell differentiation.
So it’s the same gene. That’s extremely interesting.
And also, what we were able to uncover was how this gene is regulated
differently in these closely related species to cause a change in growth.
The way that we accomplished this research is using this new emerging insect model called Nasonia.
It’s a small insect that has some interesting features
in its biology that makes it particularly good for trying to do genetics.
One of those is that male only have one set of chromosomes.
So that makes it easier for us to detect the effects of any particular gene.
So what we were able to do is cross between these very closely related species.
We’re fortunate in having really young species
so they haven’t diverged to the point where they can no longer make hybrids.
They’re still at that early stage of speciation.
So we’re able to do crosses between them and then grab parts of chromosomes that affect growth,
move it into one or the other species,
and then by using basically good old fashion recombination,
we’re able to whittle down the size of the region, until we’re able to find out what gene it is.
We can then break that apart into pieces that allow us to say,
"Well, what parts surrounding the gene affect when that gene is turned on and when that gene is turned off."
The implications of this research are sort of two avenues.
One has to do with just increasing our understanding of how growth is regulated in very diverse organisms.
Of course growth is very important in human development
and it’s a loss of growth regulation is the hallmark of cancer, for instance.
It’s also interesting to give us a better understanding of how we get this incredible diversity of life
that we see around us.
Animals and plants diverge from each other in their shape and in their form.
It’s one of the marvels of nature, but we still don’t have a very good understand of how that’s accomplished.