For the first time, scientists at The Pirbright Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute have been able to generate and build a complete Culicoides biting midge genome. These flies are not only an annoying biting nuisance for those visiting or living in Scotland, but also transmit a range of important animal viruses on UK farms including bluetongue virus.
The research is published in BMC Genomics, and the entire genome will be made available via the open access database system Ensembl Genomes (December 2018 release). The freely available resource allows scientists to share knowledge about the genetics of insects and other arthropods that spread diseases.
Dr Mark Fife, who led the project, said: ‘Providing the biting midge genome enables scientists to work out where important genes are located and in some cases what their functions are. This 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’.
The midge genome will also assist genetic manipulation of this group, including the production of transgenic lines. 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.
Dr Simon Carpenter, leader of the Entomology group at Pirbright, said: “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. One of the difficulties that we face as researchers on this vector group is that there are major challenges in working with such small insects - providing basic resources like this for what are a neglected species is therefore a major accomplishment”.
This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); grant number BB/J016721/1.
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About The Pirbright Institute
The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.
With an annual income of nearly £32.1 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £14.3 million strategic investment from BBSRC during 2017-2018, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people.
For more information about The Pirbright Institute see: www.pirbright.ac.uk
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £498 million in world-class bioscience in 2017-18. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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