Research Symposium

Investigator:  Rebecca Simmons, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Location:  Department of Biology, Starcher Hall, University of North Dakota

Project Title:  Genetic factors behind wing loss in female tussock moths (Orgyia leucostigma) 

Description:  Tussock moths are responsible for large-scale defoliation of forests across North America.  The spread of tussock moths across North America is restricted by the female's limited flight capability.  Females in the genus Orgyia all lack wings, while males retain wings and can fly.  Wings develop normally in both males and females, but during the pupal stage, female wings degrade to small vestigial disks.  We plan to investigate the differential expression of wing pattern in male and female tussock moths throughout their larval and pupal development.  To accomplish this, we will extract and sequence RNA to determine if genes involved in wing development are differentially expressed between males and females.  REU students will learn a variety of techniques including:  DNA and RNA extraction, amplification via PCR, RNA seq, and appropriate analytical techniques.  Additionally, students will participate in rearing projects as well as imagining resulting phenotypes and image analysis.

Project Title:  The evolution of complex traits in mimetic tiger moths (Erebidae: Arctiinae: Euchromiina) 

Description:  Tiger moths, members of the subfamily Arctiinae, display bright coloration and often mimic noxious insects, such as bees and wasps.  These moths have evolved numerous traits allowing for precise mimicry of their models, such as clear wings, narrowed waists (=wasp waists), and behaviors (e.g., psuedostinging).  While these traits are well documented, it is not clear if these adaptations are the result of one evolutionary event in a group of closely related species, or convergent evolution between distantly related lineages.  We will investigate these possibilities by using a suite of genes that provide data allowing us to construct the evolutionary relationships of these moths (= phylogeny).  REU students will learn a variety of techniques including: DNA extraction and amplification via PCR, Sanger sequencing, imagining specimens to document mimetic traits, and phylogenetic analyses.
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