Annual Report 2002 - Cornell University
003 Selected Faculty Research

18 Unlocking evolutionary secrets of insects

Wendell L. Roelofs, Cornell Geneva Campus/Entomology, and research team found an undetected gene, the delta-14, which holds a key to how insects evolve into new species. The Roelofs research team made the discovery while searching for methods to prevent European corn borers from mating, multiplying, and destroying fields of crops. The delta-14 gene regulates the chemicals produced in sex pheromone glands of females to attract males for mating. The researchers found that this mutated gene can be suddenly switched on, changing the pheromone components that the females use to attract males. The mating communication system between rare males (1 in 200) who can respond to the chemical produced by the female carriers of the delta-14 gene become the basis of a new species. As females with the delta-14 gene mate with other rare males, these males and females stabilize their pheromone communication system. This isolates the new population from the parent species. The discovery has significant implications for effective pest control by disrupting the mating of insects.

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