University of Arizona entomology professor Molly Hunter has received a $520,000 National Science Foundation grant to explore bacterial manipulation of insect reproduction.
In the three-year study, Hunter and her team will research the genomic and cytological mechanisms used by the bacterium Cardinium to manipulate reproduction of parasitic wasps that attack whiteflies, a growing agricultural pest concern.
The bacteria are inherited in the wasps. Unlike a pathogen or a disease, the only way the bacteria can spread is by manipulating the reproductive systems of their hosts.
"The bacteria are unusual in this way," Hunter said. "They're parasites, but because they're inherited, they're intimately involved with the evolution of their host. They're influencing reproduction of their hosts in a way that benefits their transmission to the next generation."
Hunter's research centers on a reproductive manipulation called cytoplasmic incompatability, or CI.
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