Honey bees and other insects important to agriculture could get help from recent genetic studies of a major agricultural pest--the fruit fly, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators who have completed genome sequences of 12 fruit fly species.

The fruit fly, Drosophila, is often used as a model organism in genetic studies. The researchers analysed immune genes in the 12 fly species and report that the study offers insights into the immune system of honey bees, a valuable pollinator beset by a variety of problems, including the highly publicized colony collapse disorder (CCD).

The analysis of the immunity-related genes in Drosophila was done by entomologist Jay Evans at the ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., and researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.; Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.; and Umea University in Umea, Sweden. The study was published recently in Nature Genetics.

Having the complete genetic sequences for the 12 fruit fly species will provide researchers tools for dissecting the evolutionary history of the Drosophila immune system. Eventually, this may enable scientists to test immune predictions for honey bees and other agriculturally beneficial insects. That's because both insects share numerous disease-resistance traits.

Insects' immune systems must constantly evolve to remain effective against a changing array of diseases and other threats. These changes are evident when examining the genes involved in immune response.

Before this sequencing study, general patterns have been difficult to discern, because previous studies focused on a small number of genes in a few particular species. The current study describes how the immune systems of the well-studied fruit fly group have changed over time, strengthening comparisons to bees and other insects of agricultural importance.

Additional information can be found at: http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/drosophila/index.html.