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Researchers Decode Genome of Deadly Tsetse Fly

Apr 25, 2014 05:48 AM EDT

Researchers at the International Glossina Genome Initiative (IGGI) have decoded the genome of the tsetse fly. The genetic data will help scientists explore new ways of fighting the disease caused by the fly.

Tsetse fly or Glossina morsitans causes a disease called trypanosomiasis, which is also known as sleeping sickness. The disease is fatal if left untreated. According to the World Health Organization, sustained efforts to control the insect have led to a reduction in the number of people infected with the disease. In 2012, around 7216 cases were recorded, which is a 50-year low.

Deadly Bite

The tsetse fly has a unique lifestyle; it sucks human and animal blood, gives birth to live young and feeds its babies by lactation.

According to the researchers, the fly has advanced sensory organs that help it track its prey. Glossina morsitans is a relative of the common fruit fly, which is the scientific community's favorite test subject. However, tsetse fly's genome is twice as large.

The fly is found throughout the Sub-Saharan region.

The Research                                                                        

In the present study, researchers had to look for genes of the fly that coded for certain proteins. These proteins were then linked with the corresponding biological function, a process called as annotation.

In all, the team analyzed some 12,000 genes that code for different proteins, according to a press release.

"In a first phase of the project, we used computers to automatically annotate the genetic sequence of the tsetse fly and compare it with the sequences of similar species with known genomes, such as the fruit fly. The computers flagged segments of genetic material in the tsetse fly's genome known to code for proteins in other species and used this data to predict the tsetse fly's gene structure and function," explained Geoffrey Attardo (Yale University), a lead author of the study.

The team annonated 39 neuropeptide genes and 43 receptor genes.  Neuropeptides control several physiological functions, such as feeding, metabolism, reproduction and behavior. Understanding the genes that control these functions could help unravel the overall biology of the fly, researchers said.

According to Jelle Caers, one of the study researchers, the genetic data could help control the fly population and so, eradicate the disease.

"Interfering with neuropeptides' proper functioning may allow us to decrease the fly's fitness and thereby shrink populations. There is still more work to be done before trypanosomiasis is eradicated in humans and animals, but decoding the tsetse genome is a big step in the right direction," Jelle Caers said in a news release.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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