Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The serosa: an evolutionary novelty in insect eggs

What is the function of the insect serosa?

2010 - 2013
Maurijn van der Zee

Gustavo Lazzaro Rezende, Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense Rio de Janeiro


Insects are extraordinarily successful on land, in contrast to their sister group, the crustaceans. In this project, we will investigate if an evolutionary novelty is insect eggs,  the serosa,  facilitated that spectacular radiation. The serosa is an extraembryonic membrane in insect eggs that surrounds the embryo and yolk.

Using RNAi against zen1, the Hox transcription factor that specifies the serosa, we aim to establish the function of the serosa in the beetle Tribolium castaneum.

We find that serosa-less eggs desiccate quickly at low humidities and are not able to mount an immune response when challenged with bacteria. We conclude that the serosa protects the insect egg against  desiccation and pathogens.

As the serosa is a frontier epithelium at the interface with the external environment, it is likely to play a role in many more ecological interactions of insect eggs, for instance with fungi, symbionts, parasites and plant defenses.

The inspiring presence of ecologists, evolutionary developmental biologists and immunologists makes the Institute of Biology a great place to carry out this research.

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