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Photo: The parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis.
The genome sequencing of the parasitic wasp Nasonia has been completed by Agricultural Research Service scientists and cooperators. Nasonia is a key model experimental organism as well as an important biocontrol for many flies. Photo courtesy of Jack Werren, University of Rochester

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Genome for Nasonia Wasp Now Complete

By Alfredo Flores
August 13, 2009

The sequencing of the genome for an important parasitic wasp called Nasonia has been completed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators. Nasonia is a key experimental organism that’s been used for genetic research for over half a century.

University of Rochester (New York) genetics professor Jack Werren was the leader of the overall project, while entomologist Wayne Hunter at the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Fla., led the ARS portion of the work. The scientific team produced genetic libraries and sequenced over 10,000 expressed sequence tags of the genome.

The small Nasonia wasps seek out blow flies, flesh flies, and house flies, and then lay their eggs in the fly pupae. It’s an effective biocontrol wasp because the females produce offspring quickly, have large family sizes and, best of all, are easy to work with in the lab. Commercial hosts are available, making it easy to rear the wasps.

Currently U.S. biological control programs using parasitoid wasps save approximately $20 billion annually in crop losses to newly invasive species. These wasps have been a major benefit to food production for humans by reducing the quantity of food crops destroyed by pests and reducing the need for pesticides.

It’s no wonder that Nasonia was the logical first choice for sequencing a parasitoid genome. Information from the Nasonia genome is being used to identify important genes in parasitoid biology. There’s also a broad interest in utilizing the Nasonia genome to identify genes involved in important biological processes like sense of smell, behavior, toxicology and enzymatic pathways.

Read more about the research in the August 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Details on the Nasonia Genome Project can be found at:

ARS is principal intramural scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.