Apr 28, 2021
That scene of an alien invader exploding from another life
form's chest might be happening in your backyard.
Entomologist Michael Strand says that, "virtually every insect
on the planet is parasitized by some parasitoid wasps." He explains
how this ubiquitous wasp has been so successful for millions of
years through its evolved
insect anatomy and physiology.
Listen and learn
Michael R Strand is the H.M. Pulliam Chair at the University of
Georgia and professor in the
Entomology Department. He specializes in insect physiology and
tells listeners about the life cycle, variety, and research
interests around parasitoid wasps.
There's a basic pattern most of the wasps follow: the female lays eggs in another living organism, usually but not always an arthropod. The stage of the organism can vary from pupal to adult and the activity of the emerging wasps can differ by what part of that organism they eat, the behavior the wasp sting may induce, and when they emerge from their host.
Especially intriguing is the role of viral particle DNA in what
these wasps can actually accomplish. Strand says that, "in effect,
the parasitoid is using an ancestral virus to be able to
successfully parasitize the host that it develops in." Through
stings and vertical gene transfer, the wasp induces certain
behaviors and conditions in its host, such as paralysis or even
specific movement that benefits the wasp progeny. He explains how
these polydnaviruses became associated with the wasps and what
questions he and other scientists are still working on
Listen in for more about how these specialized wasps engage in a complex and fascinating life cycle and where applications from this knowledge might lead.
Episode also available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/30PvU9C