To make female pill bugs, just add bacterial genes | Science News



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To make female pill bugs, just add bacterial genes

Bits of Wolbachia DNA infiltrate an arthropod’s genetic makeup and change sex determination

4:51pm, September 30, 2016

SEX LIVES Wolbachia bacteria have done some remarkable things to sex in terrestrial crustaceans commonly called pill bugs — even when the actual bacteria are long gone.

ORLANDO, Fla. — When sex chromosomes among common pill bugs go bad from disuse, borrowed bacterial DNA comes to the rescue. Certain pill bugs grow up female because of sex chromosomes cobbled together with genes that jumped from the bacteria.

Genetic analysis traces this female-maker DNA to Wolbachia bacteria, Richard Cordaux, based at the University of Poitiers with France’s scientific research center CNRS, announced September 29 at the International Congress of Entomology.

Various kinds of Wolbachia infect many arthropods, spreading from mother to offspring and often biasing their hosts’ sex ratios toward females (and thus creating even more female offspring). In the common pill bug (Armadillidium vulgare), Wolbachia can favor female development in two ways. Just by bacterial infection without any gene transfer, bacteria passed down to eggs

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