Friday Cat-erpillar Blogging: Living With Densoviruses

Densoviruses are a group of DNA viruses that have been isolated from insects and crustaceans. The Densoviruses are pathogenic; they cause disease in their host insect. Denosviruses have been isolated from many economically important insect species and are of interest as potential biological control agents for insect pests.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Feeding on Parsley

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Feeding on Parsley

However, Denosviruses are not confined to pest insects. A Densovirus has been isolated from caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio polyxenes. This caterpillar, familiar to many gardeners in the US, rarely reaches population densities sufficient to cause economic harm. The Black Swallowtail has become a model system for the study of plant toxin defenses and insect detoxification mechanisms. Laboratories using this caterpillar for research reported a significant increase in caterpillar mortality in colonies. This led to the isolation of the Densovirus and its discovery in feral caterpillar populations. Advances in genomics have made obtaining the genetic code of viruses relatively straight forward and rapid. While details of the virus genome are known, many aspects of its transmission and ecological importance in Black Swallowtail populations remain a mystery. The identification and sequencing of the virus will facilitate the study of the virus under natural conditions.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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