Tropical fly study shows a mother’s age and diet influence the health of her offspring
The female tsetse fly, which gives birth to live young the size of an adult, produces weaker offspring as she ages and when she feeds on poor quality blood.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Oxford and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, was designed to measure how the health of tsetse offspring is influenced by the age of their mother, and how factors such as mother’s nutrition and mating experience could come into play.
In many animals, females show signs of reproductive aging – where the health of the offspring declines with maternal age – but there are huge variations within species in how quickly this aging occurs.
Scientists have found that female tsetse flies that experience nutritional stress have lower fertility and produce smaller offspring that are less likely to survive starvation. However, the rate at which the female ages is not affected by the quality of her diet or the time she waited to mate. Thus, neither nutrition during gestation nor mating costs cause variation in reproductive aging in this species.
Dr Sinead English of the Bristol School of Biological Sciences and lead author of the article said: “Tsetse flies are remarkable flies. Mothers can produce offspring of the same size as them. But, like many other animals (including humans), this huge reproductive investment comes at a cost: as females age or have poor quality food, they produce weaker offspring that survive less. long time. However, we still don’t know why some females age faster than others.
Now, researchers will look at new ways to test evolutionary predictions of aging, using a new model system and an innovative method of tracking the reproduction of individual flies.
Dr English added, “We are also interested in understanding these patterns in tsetse flies as they spread deadly parasites, called trypanosomes, to humans and animals. By understanding how the survival of offspring depends on maternal nutritional stress and age, we can design better population dynamics and model disease transmission.
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