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Projects - BA (Bart) Pannebakker

I am interested in the genetic and physiological mechanisms that underlie and explain the evolution of life-history traits and reproductive strategies, with a focus on Hymenopteran insects, such as parasitoid wasps and honeybees.

Parasitoid wasps are insects that develop inside other insects and often kill their host, and can therefore play an important role in biological pest control. Our parasitoid research focuses on sex allocation and on the trade-off between longevity and reproduction in the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis. In our research, we use experimental evolution, combined with the large set of genetical, genomical and physiological tools available for Nasonia.

Sex allocation is a particularly well understood trait, supported by a large body of theoretical and experimental work. A lot of this work was done in Nasonia, which can facultatively allocate resources between female and male offspring. The genetic basis underlying this trait remains elusive, and our work aims at identifying the genes and variation involved.

The trade-off between longevity and reproduction is a focus of life-history research in many species. In parasitoids, this is a clear resource allocation problem, because parasitoids are limited by the nutrients obtained in the larval stage. We use the features  of the Nasonia system, such as diapause induction and the presence of a full set of DNA-methylation genes, to unravel the mechanisms involved in these important life-history traits. 

Our honeybee work focuses on the infection of honeybees with Varroa mites. Varroa mites are a  major source of the recent problems in beekeeping with “colony-collapse-disorder”. However, a few feral Varroa-resistant honey bee colonies exist, and efforts are ongoing to breed Varroa-resistant honey bees. We use genetic and genomic tools to find the genes responsible for this Varroa resistance.