Scientists discover genes responsible for insect migration

(ORDO NEWS) — Comparing the genomes of resident and long-range migratory hover flies, scientists have found more than 1,500 genes likely associated with long-distance flights.

These genes were responsible for metabolism, immunity, reactions to stress, hormonal regulation, behavior, and more. According to the researchers, many of them may be common to various groups of migratory insects.

An international team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Exeter (UK) collected many specimens of hoverfly flies during their migration through the Pyrenean mountain pass. The researchers sequenced active insect genes to determine which ones are responsible for migratory behavior.

They compared the information obtained with the genomes of non-migratory hoverflies. In total, 1543 genes were identified, the levels of activity of which differed between migrants and sedentary insects.

Hover flies ( Syrphidae ) are a family of dipteran insects. A characteristic feature of many hoverflies is their resemblance to Hymenoptera, such as wasps and bees. In addition, many members of the family are known for annual large-scale migrations.

Each autumn, billions of hoverflies leave northern Europe and make the long journey south to the Mediterranean or North Africa. Their flight passes through the Pyrenees, where they are forced to overcome high mountain passes. Other hoverfly species migrate from continental Europe to southern England.

Migration-related genes have surprised scientists with their range of functions. Such a long flight is extremely energy-consuming, so the discovery of genes associated with metabolism did not come as a surprise.

However, experts have also identified genes that play a role in maintaining muscle structure, hormonal regulation (including the production of octopamine, an analogue of adrenaline in insects), immunity, resistance to stress, flight behavior, eating behavior, sensory perception and increased life expectancy.

When the authors of the work began to organize these genes according to their functions, it turned out that the sets of genes are activated in concert. It is likely that these relationships arose in the process of evolution in order to ensure safe movement of insects over long distances.

According to the scientists, their results provide a powerful theoretical basis for future research on the evolution of migration.

The authors have already been able to identify several genes that have previously been found in migratory butterflies. Therefore, they suggest that there is a “package of migratory genes” that regulates the movement of various groups of insects.


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