In my evolutionary genetics and entomology laboratory we investigate the genetics and evolution of insect reproductive modes, life-history, and behaviour. We try to unravel mechanisms of sexual and parthenogenetic reproduction, sex determination and sex chromosome evolution, mainly in haplodiploid hymenopterans (parasitoid wasps, such as Nasonia, Asobara, Leptopilina) and diploid dipterans (such as houseflies). We also investigate life-history traits and behaviour associated with reproduction, such as photoperiodism and parasitisation behaviour, and how microorganisms affect insect performance. We do this both from a fundamental and applied perspective, to improve insects for biological control and production for food and feed. For this, we collaborate with biological control companies and the insect feed industry.

  Photos: Peter Koomen    

Polyploidy programme

Polyploidization events have occurred frequently in the evolutionary history of most Eukaryota, but how neopolyploid detriment (sterility, gigantism, gene dosage imbalances) has turned into evolutionary advantage (gene network diversification, stress adaptation) is largely unknown, particularly for animals. We use the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis, a rare insect system with heritable polyploidy, to assess the effects of polyploidization. We compare a long-established polyploid line, the Whiting polyploid line, and newly generated sex-determination-gene-knockdown-lines for fitness traits, absolute gene expression, and cell size and number. This knowledge is applied to improve biological control agents.

Insect feed programme

With the expected growth of the human population and associated biodiversity loss and climate change, major changes in our food production are needed. Insects provide excellent opportunities because various species can be reared on organic waste streams and serve as feed for livestock. Within the InsectFeed consortium we investigate how insect production can be improved, with a focus on insect health and welfare, the role of microorganisms in insect life-histories and breeding of lines that perform better on particular substrates (such as manure). Main research organisms are the house fly (Musca domestica) and the black soldier fly (BSF, Hermetia illucens)

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