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Researchers Find That Mosquitos Lost ‘Essential’ Gene and Survived

By Kimbra Cutlip

University of Maryland entomologists have discovered that a gene critical for survival in other insects is missing in mosquitoes. A related gene evolved to take over the missing gene’s job of properly arranging the insect’s segmented body.

Although laboratory studies have shown that similar genes can be engineered to substitute for one another, this is the first time that scientists identified a gene that naturally evolved to perform the same critical function as a related gene long after the two genes diverged down different evolutionary paths. The research study published Wednesday in the journal Communications Biology may point to a new potential avenue for research into highly targeted mosquito control strategies, and reinforces the importance of caution in genetic studies that use model animals to make conclusions across different species.

“We learn a lot in biology by studying a process in a model organism and assuming that it works essentially the same way, using the same genes, in other organisms,” said Alys Jarvela, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Entomology and lead author of the study. “That is still an incredibly useful approach. But, now we know that there is also a possibility for gene substitutions to be made in nature.”

Read the full release on the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences website.

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