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Blood-sucking Fly Still Needs to Take Its Vitamins

NSF Award:

"Functional Genomics of Obligate Symbionts"  (Yale University)

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The blood-loving tsetse fly gets its daily dose of essential vitamins from a bacterium that lives in its gut. Yale University researchers found that the bacterium's vitamin production also benefits the tsetse fly's other gut guest, a parasite that causes African sleeping sickness.

Understanding the interaction between the gut bacterium and its host, the tsetse fly, may lead to ways of limiting the transmission of sleeping sickness from the fly to humans and animals.

Sleeping sickness affects over 50,000 people annually and is highly debilitating and lethal if untreated. Tsetse flies also spread deadly diseases to domesticated and agriculturally important animals, severely limiting agricultural productivity and contributing to poverty and hunger. Researchers have known that bacteria within the tsetse fly are essential to the fly's survival on its exclusive diet of blood. Bacteria supply the fly with the vitamins that are necessary to its fertility. Flies lacking the bacteria are infertile; and supplying the flies with the missing vitamins restores fertility.

Researchers are investigating how the bacteria interact with the host fly and how they are transmitted from mother to offspring. The goal is to identify the microbial genes that affect tsetse fly physiology and behavior.


  • tse-tse fly
A female Tsetse fly from the Aksoy Lab colony at Yale University School of Public Health.
Geoff Attardo, Yale University

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