Sequencing of house fly genome could offer new clues to health and the environment

A consortium of scientists from across the globe have sequenced the entire genome of the house fly. The genome has revealed a strong immune system, as might be expected from an insect that thrives on faecal matter and in rubbish dumps.

The research recently in the journal Genome Biology1 will increase understanding of house fly genetics and biology and how flies quickly adapt to resist insecticides.
House fly

Adult house flies (Musca domestica) can carry and transmit more than 100 human and animal diseases, including salmonellosis, anthrax, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, cholera and diarrhoea as well as parasites such as pinworms, roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms, whilst the larvae play important roles in the decomposition of animal waste.

The team, led by Professor Jeff Scott of Cornell University, identified an amplified number of immune response and defence genes in the genome of the house fly compared to other similar insects. Though why they should need so many additional genes is unknown. They also possess an increased number of cytochrome P450s, which may help the flies metabolise environmental toxins. Unique detoxification genes were identified within the house fly genome, which produce proteins to help the flies breakdown waste. A high number of chemoreceptors were identified in the house fly genome. These detectors sense chemical stimuli in the environment, such as food, and allow house flies to respond to a wide variety of different environmental stimuli.
The sequence of the house fly genome will allow scientists from a number of fields, such as developmental biology, sex determination, immunity, toxicology and physiology, to investigate different biological questions and mechanisms. Further studies using this information will be essential to understand which proteins are expressed from the genome blueprint, to allow us to interpret the functional mechanisms at play in these insects.
Using this information we could begin to understand how this fly is immune to the human diseases it carries in order to promote the development of novel treatments and vaccines, or deepen our understanding of its immune system function to aid the development of new toxins better able to poison the flies themselves to stop the spread of disease. Information regarding the function of the house fly detoxification genes may offer insights into the handling of human waste and possibly improve the environment.
Further information
1. Scott JG et al. Genome of the house fly, Musca domestica L., a global vector of diseases with adaptations to a septic environment. Genome Biol (2014) 15(10); 466