Genome could help control ‘insect stoats’

Peter Dearden.
Prof Peter Dearden. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Dunedin-led scientists have sequenced the genome of two invasive wasps, in a world-first development which could help better control this "serious ecological threat".

"The critical thing is this is a step change in controlling wasps," Genomics Aotearoa director Prof Peter Dearden said yesterday.

Prof Dearden, of the University of Otago, said the two exotic wasp species sequenced were like "insect stoats" and killed native insects indiscriminately.

The wasps also deprived native insects and birds of vital honey dew food in South Island beech forests.

The wasps also caused about $130million of economic damage each year, accounting for 10% of overall lost hives in North Island beekeeping.

Vespine wasp populations could reach up to 40 nests per hectare and their large colony sizes, reproductive capacity and flexible predation made them particularly damaging.

The genome sequencing was "a step forward for New Zealand science".

"The key thing is we now have the people and we have the tools to do it all ourselves," he said, acknowledging the overseas support also received.

Genomics Aotearoa researchers working at Otago University and Victoria University of Wellington, and supported by colleagues from the UK, Australia and California, have successfully sequenced and interpreted the genomes of the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris), and German wasp (Vespula germanica), both found in New Zealand.

The researchers also sequenced the genome of the North American western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica), not found in New Zealand.

Their research paper has been published in the Genetics Society of America journal G3: Genes, Genomes and Genetics.

The sequencing was the first wasp genome produced globally and was a "major milestone" in understanding the biology of Vespula wasps, which had spread across much of the world and adversely affected human health, economies and biodiversity.

Vespine wasps are a large group of social wasps.

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