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Details From a Short Life

After figuring out how to keep mayflies in the lab, researchers sequenced their genome to find that juvenile mayflies' gills have a number of roles, possibly including in the development of adult wings, Science reports.

Researchers from the Andalusian Center for Developmental Biology sequenced the genome and transcriptome of Cloeon dipterum, which is a sister group to all other winged insects and has an aquatic and airborne lifecycle. As they report in Nature Communications, the CABD-led team uncovered an expansion of odorant-binding-protein genes within the mayfly genome. Some of these genes, they further found, were expressed in the gills of aquatic nymphs, suggesting a new role for gills.

Craig Macadam from the UK nonprofit BugLife tells Science this "may help us understand more about how mayflies sense their surroundings."

Additionally, CABD researchers found that many genes that are active in the juvenile gills are also expressed in adult wings, suggesting that gills have a role in adult wing development. "The discovery of common genetic programming between gills and wings is another piece towards understanding the puzzling origins of insect wings — and flight," Purdue University's Luke Jacobus tells Science.