Daniel Bopp

Genes that determine sex in insects

Despite sex determination being a fundamental developmental process in all sexually propagating species, its genetic basis is remarkably variable and evolutionary labile. For instance, an astounding diversity of sex determining mechanisms exists in insects and diversification can take place even within the same species. This is particularly true for the common housefly, Musca domestica, which co-opted different sexdetermining strategies and hence presents itself as a remarkable example of sex

determination plasticity. The objective of our studies is to use the housefly as a model to investigate the molecular basis underlying different mechanisms of sex determination and to understand how transitions between different systems can occur.

The latest discoveries of the basic genetic principles for sex determination are valuable not just for evolutionary biology. This knowledge is also very useful for developing new, sustainable strategies for pest control. When specially bred, sterile insect males are released, they compete with the wild males for the females. After the repeated release of an excess of sterile males, the natural population in the infested region collapses. The technology has already been used successfully against fruit pests in agriculture. In the future, they will also be able to be used in the control of disease carriers, like mosquitoes or houseflies (image kindly provided by Peter Koomen)