Venomous Wasp Discovery Aids the Fight Against Insect-Borne Diseases


The Leptopilina wasp does not prey on humans. It is, however, a parasite of the common fruit fly. Mother wasps lay their eggs inside fly larvae (baby fruit flies), along with a venom that suppresses the fly’s immune response. The growing wasp develops within the helpless young fly, living off its tissue. At full size, the wasp emerges from the fly’s decaying body.

Leptopilina wasp emerging from fruit fly larva
Leptopilina wasp emerging from fruit fly larva
Photo credit: CCNY

Recently, a team led by Professor Shubha Govind (City College of New York and The Graduate Center, CUNY) uncovered some of the biological details of an ingredient in the wasp’s venom. Until now, the biological agents that suppress the fly’s immune system were known as Virus-like Particles (VLPs). The researchers discovered that the particles are, in fact, not viral at all. Their study appears in Current Biology.

The study is a step toward uncovering how the venom shuts down the fruit fly’s immune system. An understanding of this process will provide researchers with insight into how virulence evolves in insects, which could eventually lead to the development of new methods for treating emerging, infectious, insect-carried diseases.

In studying the VLPs, the team found no sign of the protein shell that normally encloses viruses. Instead, they found a mix of proteins that show similarities to vesicles, or transport structures, found in plant and animal cells, as well as proteins displaying similarities to the secretion systems of some bacteria. The research team redubbed the particles mixed-strategy extracellular vesicles (MSEVs).

Other members of Govind’s team from CUNY included Graduate Center Ph.D. students Mary Ellen Heavner, the lead author of the study,Johnny Ramroop, and Brooklyn College Professor Shaneen Singh.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
Novel Organelles with Elements of Bacterial and Eukaryotic Secretion Systems Weaponize Parasites of Drosophila
Current Biology, 2017

Work By
Shubha Govind (Professor, Biology and Biochemistry) | Profile 1 | Profile 2
Shaneen Singh (Professor, Biology) | Profile
Mary Ellen Heavner (Ph.D. candidate, Biochemistry)
Johnny Ramroop (Ph.D. candidate, Biology)

Colleges and Schools
The City College of New York
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
CCNY-led Research Team Identifies New Organelle in Parasitic Wasp Venom (CCNY News)

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