Biotech Updates

Scientists Induce “Virgin Birth” on Fruit Flies

August 2, 2023

University of Cambridge researchers were able to identify the genes responsible for parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth.” They were able to confirm the genes' function and, for the first time, engineered virgin birth to happen in an animal that is known to sexually reproduce.

Initially, the researchers sequenced two strains of Drosophila mercatorum. One of the strains needed males to reproduce, while the other was known to undergo parthenogenesis. They compared the two strains by switching genes on and off when the flies were reproducing without fathers, which led them to identify candidate genes for parthenogenesis. They then altered these genes using a different species of fruit fly, the Drosophila melanogaster, to confirm their findings.

The researchers were successful in inducing parthenogenesis in D. melanogaster, having observed that a virgin fly is able to produce an embryo that can develop into an adult. They also noted that the trait can be passed on through generations, offspring are always females, and that the genetically manipulated female flies would have virgin births about 40 days after unsuccessfully finding a mate.

Switching to parthenogenesis can be a survival strategy for some species, including insect pests. The findings can help support further research to find out why virgin birth is becoming more common in pest species and help develop a model for parthenogenetic development.

Read the news release by University of Cambridge and the scientific article in Current Biology to know more.

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