Date: 2021/9/22

Hot off the Press: Aphid developmental genes research at NTU Entomology featured on the cover of an international journal for the sixth time

Genetic research on the developmental genes of aphids at NTU Department of Entomology has once again made headlines, this time being featured on an international scientific journal. The image of the “hunchback” (hb) gene expression of the Acyrthosiphon pisum (asexual viviparous pea aphid) is on the cover of the August 2021 issue of the redesigned international journal Insect Molecular Biology, a leading journal in the field of Entomology. The publication of the photograph was the result of a request made by the Royal Entomological Society to the Department of Entomology. The image made it to the cover of the first issue of the redesigned journal (Fig. 1) following copyright agreement negotiations between NTU and the Society.

The image was provided by the research lab led by Prof. Chun-che Chang (張俊哲). Prof. Chang’s team has long been involved in the investigation of the development of germ cells and the mechanisms of axis formation in asexual viviparous pea aphids (Fig. 2). His researchers have discovered over the past few years that hb genes shared by insects have exceeded their original developmental role in asexual viviparous aphids. Transcripts of hb, also termed as hb messenger RNA (mRNA), can be identified at the anterior region of the uncellularized egg chambers and also in the neuroblasts of the segmented embryos. Surprisingly, hb mRNA can also be identified in the embryonic germ cells uninterruptedly from the initial stage to the final stage of development. In the embryos of a wide variety of insects, including species of fruit flies, mosquitoes, crickets, locusts, stink bugs, bees and parasitic wasps, the hb gene is found to be involved only in the development of anterior and neuroblasts. Expression and regulation of hb in germ cells have not been disclosed. Therefore, the unique expression of the hb genes in the germ cells of aphids is given special significance. Dr. Chen-yo Chung (鍾成侑) and Prof. Chang (Fig. 3), who provided the image, said that in asexual viviparous aphids, embryos develop directly from their germ cells, and therefore the expression of hb genes probably represents a type of preferential regulation, allowing the anterior region of the embryo’s axis to be determined by the required molecules like hb mRNA. The research of Prof. Chang's team was chosen to be on the cover of the journal for its novel and special significances.

The research of Prof. Chang's lab has made it to the cover page of international scientific journals for a total of six times since 2006. Among those six instances, three have been on the prestigious entomological journal Insect Molecular Biology, which happened in 2014, 2020 and 2021, respectively. The name of Prof. Chang’s lab has recently changed from "Laboratory for Genetics and Development" to "Laboratory for Genomics and Development (LGD)". According to Prof. Chang, the new name indicates that the LGD aims to investigate aphid development from gene to genome level. Meanwhile, the new name is a commemoration of the significance of its research being featured on the cover of Insect Molecular Biology. Going forward, the Department of Entomology aspires to continue its role as an important international research center for aphid developmental genes as well as to discover effective strategies to control the reproduction of aphids, a major agricultural pest.

Related websites:

  • Image 1986_20210922_1

    Cover of the August issue of Insect Molecular Biology in 2021. On the cover, it shows expression of the hb mRNA in a late embryo of the asexual viviparous pea aphid. Apart from the anterior region and the neuroblasts along the anteroposterior axis, hb mRNA is also expressed in the germ cells located in the abdominal dorsal region.

  • Image 1986_20210922_2

    Asexual viviparous reproduction of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. A female aphid mother is giving birth a baby aphid parthenogenetically and viviparously. The first-instar aphid on the far right has been completely separated from her mother.

  • Image 1986_20210922_3

    Scientists working on aphid development. Dr. Chen-yo Chung (right) and Prof. Chun-che Chang (left) at a corner of the new LGD.

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