Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research


House fly genome: insights into the septic world and innovative mechanisms of insect control

Adult house flies (Musca domestica L.) are vectors of more than 100 devastating diseases with severe consequences for human and animal health. House fly larvae contribute to the decomposition of animal waste, and therefore live in intimate association with many animal pathogens. David Sattelle is part of an international consortium that has recently published the house fly genome (Scott et al Genome Biology 2014, 14:466) http://genomebiology.com/2014/15/9/466. The team sequenced and analyzed the 691 Mb genome of the house fly.  In comparison with the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, the genome shows a substantial increase in copy number and diversity of both the recognition and effector components of the immune system. This is consistent with life in a pathogen-rich environment. In addition, there are 146 P450 genes in M. domestica, a significant increase relative to D. melanogaster pointing to enhanced detoxification capacity in house flies. Relative to D. melanogaster, M. domestica has also evolved an expanded repertoire of chemoreceptors and associated binding proteins, many associated with taste.

The Sattelle lab's particular focus has been on the dicysteine-loop ligand-gated ion channel superfamily which contains important targets for widely used insecticides, such as the GABA-gated chloride channels and glutamate-gated chloride channels targeted by phenylpyrazoles, as well as nicotinic acetylcholine receptors targeted by spinosyns and neonicotinoids. The sequence information from diverse insect species, including agricultural pests, disease vectors and pollinating insects, provides a valuable starting point for understanding the interactions of insecticides with their molecular targets. It also enhances our understanding of the mechanisms of insecticide resistance, and may assist in the design and development of future insecticides with enhanced specificity for pest species.

This represents the first genome sequence of an insect that lives in intimate association with abundant animal pathogens. The house fly genome provides a rich resource for enabling work on innovative methods of insect control, for understanding the mechanisms of insecticide resistance, genetic adaptation to high pathogen loads, and for exploring the basic biology of this important pest. The housefly genome will also serve as a close out-group to Drosophila melanogaster in comparative genomic studies.


Phylogeny showing relationships of housefly (M. domestica) and fruitfly (D. melanogaster) dicysteine-loop ligand-gated ion channel protein sequences. Mosquito (A. gambiae) sequences were also included when comparing nicotinic acetylcholine receptor sequences. Numbers at each node signify bootstrap values with 100 replicates and the scale bar represents substitutions per site.

Genome Biology (October 2014)
Centre for Respiratory Biology
Iris page for David Sattelle