Blepharoneura is a genus of cryptic, Neotropical, South American fruit flies in the Tephritidae family involved in amazingly specific interactions with their parasitic wasps (Condon et al. 2008). Most of the species of parasitic wasps can kill only one species of fly. If the wasps attack the “wrong” fly, the wasp dies (Condon et al. 2014). Current research aims to discover the mechanisms that explain and maintain such incredibly specific lethal interactions and how these relationships evolved. The purpose of my research was to establish a database of tephritid immune system genes that, when sequenced through Anchored Hybrid Enrichment (AHE) (Lemmon et al. 2012), could reveal evolutionary patterns associated with the known parasite-host relationships and be used to test hypotheses about the genetic and molecular mechanisms governing host survival. Some of these genes may be homologous with genes known to be involved in immune function in Drosophila (common fruit flies). Previous research into the cellular immune response in Drosophila has identified 144 immune system genes shown to be upregulated in response to parasitic attack (Wertheim et al. 2005, Schlenke et al. 2007, McQuilton et al. 2012, Salazar-Jaramillo et al. 2014). Little is known, however, about the cellular immune response in tephritid flies. Using extensive data mining (NCBI, FlyBase, OrthoDB) and premier bioinformatics software (MEGA 6, Geneious), I established a database of 56 single-copy orthologous genes in eight Tephritidae species for preliminary AHE probe design. To top off the project, I ran a phylogenetic comparison (RAxML) of the eight tephritid species using the concatenated protein sequences of 22 immune system genes from my database. The resulting phylogenetic tree (recalculated 500 times) adhered to the current understanding of Tephritidae phylogeny in scientific literature and was supported with high bootstrap values.
Becca Lensing, ’16
Sponsor: Marty Condon