First complete genome of the biting midge may lead to advances in control of arboviruses

Reseachers at The Pirbright Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute have generated and built the first complete Culicoides biting midge genome. These flies transmit a range of economically important animal viruses, including Bluetongue virus.

“Providing the biting midge genome enables scientists to work out where important genes are located and in some cases what their functions are,” said Dr Mark Fife, who led the project. The entire genome will be made available via the open access database system Ensembl Genomes (December 2018 release).

This resource allows scientists to share knowledge about the genetics of insects and other arthropods that spread diseases. “For the midge community this is an exciting moment and our work will assist those around the world who carry out research on these tiny flies” added Dr Simon Carpenter, leader of the Entomology group at Pirbright.

The research, published in BMC Genomics, will improve knowledge about which genes are involved in the transmission of livestock viruses and also allows comparisons to be drawn with other groups of vectors, including mosquitoes and sandflies. “This is important because division between biting midges and mosquitoes is likely to have occurred over 200 million years ago, meaning that they differ substantially in their genetics” said Dr Fife.

The midge genome will also assist genetic manipulation of this group, including the production of transgenic lines, where genetic changes to an organism are passed down through multiple generations. This technique is already routinely applied in a large number of research areas with mosquitoes, including how they find their hosts, why certain individuals get infected by viruses and why others don’t and in producing sterile insects for control purposes.

Article: The genome of the biting midge Culicoides sonorensis and gene expression analyses of vector competence for Bluetongue virus by Ramiro Morales-Hojas, Malcolm Hinsley, Irina M. Armean, Rhiannon Silk, Lara E. Harrup, Asier Gonzalez-Uriarte, Eva Veronesi, Lahcen Campbell, Dana Nayduch, Christopher Saski, Walter J. Tabachnick, Paul Kersey, Simon Carpenter and Mark Fife, published in BMC Genomics (2018) 19:624, doi: 10.1186/s12864-018-5014-1

[SOURCE: The Pirbright Institute]