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Sleeping sickness: the tsetse fly genome decoded

June 24, 2014
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
The genome of the tsetse fly has been decoded at last. Ten years of work made it possible for a consortium of 145 scientists to publish the DNA sequence for the vector for sleeping sickness. This result is highly significant as the biology of the tsetse is unique. The information contained in its genome is fundamental for better understanding and controlling the fly. Vector control is still essential for controlling the disease without a vaccine and due to difficult treatments.

Laying a trap tsetse in Guinea.
Credit: © IRD / V. Jamonneau

A new hope is emerging for eliminating sleeping sickness, which, despite a significant decrease in the 20th century, remains a major concern in Sub-Saharan Africa and a neglected tropical disease. An international research team, including entomologists from IRD, Génoscope, and CIRDES, just published the DNA sequence for the tsetse fly in Science. The fly transmits the parasite to humans and pets through its bite. It took ten years of work by some 145 researchers in the consortium to reveal the genome of the vector fly, also called glossina. They also determined its genetic structure and the proteins coded by each gene. Knowing its genome is essential to understanding the biology of the tsetse.

A fly like no other

This information is of special importance for glossina. In fact, it is unique in biological terms. It is distinct from all other insects in many ways. First, contrary to other vectors among which only the female bites to feed on blood, both sexes are hematophagous. More surprising, the fly has a very distinctive reproductive method, comparable to that of mammals. It does not lay eggs but gives birth to developed larva after ten days gestation in its uterus, during which it feeds its offspring with a milky secretion! Access to its DNA represents a major scientific advance, and will accelerate research on its fundamental biology. It opens the way for new prospects for controlling this vector.

A neglected disease until now

Screening and treatment for sleeping sickness, or Human African Trypanosomaisis (HAT), is costly, difficult, and toxic. Preventing the disease by developing a vaccine seems difficult because of the ability of the trypanosome to thwart mammalian immune systems. Therefore, vector control is currently the only means of breaking the transmission cycle for the disease.

Gradually, HAT is becoming a less-neglected disease, mobilising an increasingly large scientific community through studies such as these. These studies should make new concrete progress possible for the disadvantaged populations that are the victims of this scourge.

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Materials provided by Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. G. M. Attardo, P. P. Abila, J. E. Auma, A. A. Baumann, J. B. Benoit, C. L. Brelsfoard, J. M. C. Ribeiro, J. A. Cotton, D. Q. D. Pham, A. C. Darby, J. Van Den Abbeele, D. L. Denlinger, L. M. Field, S. R. G. Nyanjom, M. W. Gaunt, D. L. Geiser, L. M. Gomulski, L. R. Haines, I. A. Hansen, J. W. Jones, C. K. Kibet, J. K. Kinyua, D. M. Larkin, M. J. Lehane, R. V. M. Rio, S. J. Macdonald, R. W. Macharia, A. R. Malacrida, H. G. Marco, K. K. Marucha, D. K. Masiga, M. E. Meuti, P. O. Mireji, G. F. O. Obiero, J. J. O. Koekemoer, C. K. Okoro, I. A. Omedo, V. C. Osamor, A. S. P. Balyeidhusa, J. T. Peyton, D. P. Price, M. A. Quail, U. N. Ramphul, N. D. Rawlings, M. A. Riehle, H. M. Robertson, M. J. Sanders, M. J. Scott, Z. J. S. Dashti, A. K. Snyder, T. P. Srivastava, E. J. Stanley, M. T. Swain, D. S. T. Hughes, A. M. Tarone, T. D. Taylor, E. L. Telleria, G. H. Thomas, D. P. Walshe, R. K. Wilson, J. J. Winzerling, A. Acosta-Serrano, S. Aksoy, P. Arensburger, M. Aslett, R. Bateta, A. Benkahla, M. Berriman, K. Bourtzis, J. Caers, G. Caljon, A. Christoffels, M. Falchetto, M. Friedrich, S. Fu, G. Gade, G. Githinji, R. Gregory, N. Hall, G. Harkins, M. Hattori, C. Hertz-Fowler, W. Hide, W. Hu, T. Imanishi, N. Inoue, M. Jonas, Y. Kawahara, M. Koffi, A. Kruger, D. Lawson, S. Lehane, H. Lehvaslaiho, T. Luiz, M. Makgamathe, I. Malele, O. Manangwa, L. Manga, K. Megy, V. Michalkova, F. Mpondo, F. Mramba, A. Msangi, N. Mulder, G. Murilla, S. Mwangi, L. Okedi, S. Ommeh, C.-P. Ooi, J. Ouma, S. Panji, S. Ravel, C. Rose, R. Sakate, L. Schoofs, F. Scolari, V. Sharma, C. Sim, G. Siwo, P. Solano, D. Stephens, Y. Suzuki, S.-H. Sze, Y. Toure, A. Toyoda, G. Tsiamis, Z. Tu, M. Wamalwa, F. Wamwiri, J. Wang, W. Warren, J. Watanabe, B. Weiss, J. Willis, P. Wincker, Q. Zhang, J.-J. Zhou. Genome Sequence of the Tsetse Fly (Glossina morsitans): Vector of African Trypanosomiasis. Science, 2014; 344 (6182): 380 DOI: 10.1126/science.1249656

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Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). "Sleeping sickness: the tsetse fly genome decoded." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2014. <>.
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). (2014, June 24). Sleeping sickness: the tsetse fly genome decoded. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2016 from
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). "Sleeping sickness: the tsetse fly genome decoded." ScienceDaily. (accessed October 21, 2016).