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Insect gene allows reproductive organs to cope with harmful bacteria

A damaging bacteria with an uncanny ability to pass itself from insect mothers to eggs meets its genomic match in a tiny variety of parasitic wasp. Offspring of insects infected with the bacteria Wolbachia often die or are converted from male to female. A team of scientists studied Nasonia parasitic wasps that are only about the size of a sesame seed, and they serve as one of the best models to dissect and characterize the evolution of insect genomes. Inside the wasp's reproductive organs, Wolbachia hide out and pass from the mother's ovaries to developing eggs to ensure the bacteria's hidden survival to the next generation. While high levels of Wolbachia in the ovaries are key for the bacteria's transmission to insect offspring, too much Wolbachia comes at a heavy cost. The host suffers from reduced lifespan in some insects and fewer eggs in others, specifically in the Nasonia wasps. To balance the opposing evolutionary interests of the wasp and bacteria, an ongoing arms race can occur between the Nasonia wasp genome and that of the Wolbachia infection.

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