Scientists Sequence Genetic Code of the Tsetse Fly

Posted on April 24, 2014

Closeup of a tsetse fly


The genetic code of the tsetse fly has been sequenced. Scientists at the International Glossina Genome Initiative (IGGI) have produced the first complete genome sequence of the fly, Glossina morsitans. The fly feeds on the blood of humans and other animals. It gives birth to live young.

The sequenced genome gives new hope in the battle against sleeping sickness. The tsetse fly is the sole transmitter of trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness. The fly can transfer the parasite to humans with its bite. The disease is fatal if left untreated. There are drug treatments but they have side effects. There is no vaccine.

Geoffrey Attardo from Yale University, a lead author of the study, says in a statement, "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."

Doctoral researcher Jelle Caers and Professor Liliane Schoofs (KU Leuven) worked for two years in the IGGI group studying the tsetse fly's neuropeptide signaling genes. These genes could be targets for new insecticides.

The research was published here in the journal Science.

Photo: Geoffrey M. Attardo, Research Scientist, Yale School of Public Health