When an animal lays an egg, she provides her unborn offspring with the ultimate packed lunch. The egg yolk is crammed full of nutrients needed to develop life from scratch. Precisely how these life-sustaining materials are created, accumulated, and gradually served up to a developing embryo is unclear, and of surprising significance to human health. Chagas disease – which kills thousands in Central and South America annually – is transmitted by the egg-laying ‘kissing bug’, Rhodnius prolixus. Researchers investigating how yolk is created and consumed identified a particular gene that seems crucial. If this gene is blocked, the insects’ ovaries were misshapen and discoloured (right, close-up at the bottom, compared to healthy ovaries on the left). The red colour is caused by a typical yolk protein, showing that without this gene the yolk lacks key ingredients. Could this revelation help control the biting bug population, and be the kiss of death for Chagas disease?
Written by Anthony Lewis
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