NSF-REU
RESEARCH EXPERIENCES FOR UNDERGRADUATES FROM RURAL AND TRIBAL COLLEGES 

InvestigatorRebecca Simmons, Ph.D.

Location:  Department of Biology, University of North Dakota

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

Description:  Tussock moths feed on many tree species, and are responsible for large-scale defoliation of forests across North America. The most famous of these, the gypsy moth, causes millions of dollars of damage each year. 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. Some genes involved in wing development have been identified, but little is known about how these genes are expressed in wingless female tussock moths. Further, wing development occurs in early larval stages, where it is not feasible to determine the sex of the caterpillar through visible inspection. 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 first develop a PCR based method to determine the sex of individual caterpillars. Then, we will extract and sequence RNA to determine if genes involved in wing development are differentially expressed between males and females.