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Parasitoid wasps are a numerous and diverse group of insects that obligately infect other arthropod species. These wasps lay their eggs within the body cavity of their hosts, and the resulting offspring exploit the hosts’ resources to complete their development. Many parasitoids also introduce venom proteins into the host during infection. These venom proteins act through a variety of mechanisms to manipulate host immunity, physiology and metabolism in order to increase the fitness of the developing parasitoid offspring. In the Mortimer lab at Illinois State University we use the Drosophila melanogaster-parasitoid wasp host-parasite system as a model to study the mechanisms used by parasitoids to manipulate host signaling, and our work has demonstrated that parasitoid venom proteins can modify conserved signaling mechanisms including signal transduction pathways and second messenger systems in their hosts (Mortimer, 2013; Alvarado et al., 2019).
In this project we will be annotating venom encoding genes from three species of parasitoid wasps that infect Drosophila melanogaster (Mortimer et al., 2013; Goecks et al., 2013). The gene models generated in this project will allow us to investigate the evolution of venom proteins and to better characterize the proteins for follow up functional studies. Understanding the genome evolution and mechanisms underlying venom protein function will provide a powerful tool to study the regulation of signaling events and will allow us to gain novel insight into conserved signaling mechanisms in Drosophila, an important model of human health. Overall, this project will provide further insight into the function and evolution of parasitoid venoms, and open new areas of research within this exciting field.