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This Week in PNAS: Jan 15, 2019

Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center sequenced the gypsy moth genome, Lymantria dispar, to try to uncover differences between the flightless European gypsy moth and the Asian gypsy moth, which can fly, as they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The European gypsy moth, L. dispar dispar was introduced accidentally to North America where it has contributed to forest defoliation. In their analysis, the researchers uncovered 278 proteins that diverge between these species, including ones that could account for their difference in ability to fly. In addition, they uncovered differences in gene expression that arise in gypsy moth cells after exposure to virus, which they say could help in developing viral-based pesticides.

Winged insects may have evolved from earlier, terrestrial insects, another PNAS paper reported. An international team of researchers conducted a large-scale phylogenomic analysis of 106 insect species, from all Polyneopteran orders, which include grasshoppers, roaches, and stoneflies, to reconstruct the evolutionary history of both Polyneoptera and early winged insects. The researchers found that the last common ancestor of Polyneopterans likely lived on the ground, had long antennae, and segmented abdominal appendages as well as mouthparts similar to those of a dragonfly. They also report that this ancestor had hardened forewings, which would not have allowed flight.

Finally, a New York University Abu Dhabi-led team of researchers sequenced 71 date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, cultivars and five wild relatives to trace the plant's ancestry. They found that North African date palms have mixed ancestry of Middle Eastern P. dactylifera and Phoenix theophrasti, a wild Eastern Mediterranean relative. In particular, they found that up to 18 percent of the North African P. dactylifera genome stems from P. theophrasti. They further suggest that this hybridization with P. theophrasti was a central part of diversification among date palms.