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15 January 2010

Understanding the causes of autism and schizophrenia could be a step closer for researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland (QBI) after they unravelled the secret world of the wasp genome.

Understanding the causes of autism and schizophrenia could be a step closer for researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland (QBI) after they unravelled the secret world of the wasp genome.

The neuroscientists were part of an international consortium that has spent four years sequencing the genome of three parasitic wasp species.

Each of the Nasonia wasps is smaller than a pinhead, however they could have an extraordinary impact on the understanding of neurological disorders.

Dr Charles Claudianos is leading a QBI team using information taken from the genomes to study the role of genes, linked to disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

“These newly sequenced genomes enhance our understanding of genetics and evolution.  They will assist us to better understand how genes common to both humans and insects underpin fundamental cellular and molecular processes, including how the brain works,”  said Dr Claudianos.

The team will also investigate the genetic and evolutionary relationship between the wasp and the European honeybee Apis mellifera.

QBI researcher Dr Alexandre Cristino said simple organisms, such as the wasp and honeybee, were ideal for studying our brain as they had a high percentage of genes in common with humans.

“Together these organisms provide important new tools for studying the molecular basis of brain function.  Using these insect models, we can now examine the role of genes involved in connecting neurons in the brain,” Dr Cristino said.

However the benefits of sequencing the Nasonia wasps’ genomes is not limited to the laboratory.  They have the ability to attack and kill pests by parasitising their larvae, making the creatures vital to pest control and food production.

Dr Claudianos said: “There are over 600,000 species of these parasitoids in nature that can be used in biological control of agricultural pests and insects that transmit disease.  Despite their critical role in providing natural control of many pests, most people are unaware of these helpful insects.”

Full details of the sequenced wasps’ genomes are published in today’s issue of Science.  Drs Claudianos, Cristino and John Oakeshott (CSIRO Entomology) have simultaneously published two companion papers, in the Journal of Insect Molecular Biology.  

Ends

Media Contact:
Anna Bednarek
Communications Manager
Phone: +61 7 3346 6414
Email: a.bednarek@uq.edu.au

Notes to the Editor
QUEENSLAND BRAIN INSTITUTE
The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) was established as a research institute of the University of Queensland in 2003. The Institute is now operating out of a new $63 million state-of-the-art facility and houses 27 Principal Investigators with strong international reputations.  QBI is one of the largest neuroscience institutes in the world dedicated to understanding the mechanisms underlying brain function.

DR CHARLES CLAUDIANOS
Dr Charles Claudianos obtained his PhD degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Australian National University.  He went on to study malaria development at Imperial College, London, before returning to the Australian National University in 2002 where he worked on the mosquito and honeybee genome projects.  Dr Claudianos established a ‘Sensory Neuroscience’ laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute in 2007.