An international team of scientists led by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researcher Joanne Yew may have discovered a new and effective way to control insect pests that are a threat to agriculture and humans. Yew and her team identified a gene in vinegar flies responsible for the insect’s waterproof coating, which provides them protection from microbes and environmental stress. They named the gene spidey and announced the findings in a recently published study In PLoS Genetics.
Spidey is important for regulating levels of a steroid hormone, which maintains wax-producing cells. This hormone was already known to play a crucial role in the development and metamorphosis of fly larvae. The researchers did not expect that steroid hormones would play such a central role in maintaining adult tissues, such as the wax-producing cells. Yew and her colleagues now plan to knock out spidey in pest species like Oriental, Mediterranean and melon fruit flies, which are a major threat to agriculture, and possibly mosquitoes, which can carry human diseases, to see if they lose their waterproofing ability like the vinegar flies.