Mitonuclear interactions, mtDNA-mediated thermal plasticity, and implications for the Trojan Female Technique for pest control

J. N. Wolff, D. M. Tompkins, N. J. Gemmell and D. K. Dowling,  Scientific Reports,  6. 2016.

Pest species pose major challenges to global economies, ecosystems, and health. Unfortunately, most conventional approaches to pest control remain costly, and temporary in effect. As such, a heritable variant of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) was proposed, based on the introduction of mitochondrial DNA mutations into pest populations, which impair male fertility but have no effects on females. Evidence for this “Trojan Female Technique” (TFT) was recently provided, in the form of a mutation in the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene (mt:Cyt-b) of Drosophila melanogaster which reduces male fertility across diverse nuclear backgrounds. However, recent studies have shown that the magnitude of mitochondrial genetic effects on the phenotype can vary greatly across environments, with mtDNA polymorphisms commonly entwined in genotype-by-environment (G x E) interactions. Here we test whether the male-sterilizing effects previously associated with the mt: Cyt-b mutation are consistent across three thermal and three nuclear genomic contexts. The effects of this mutation were indeed moderated by the nuclear background and thermal environment, but crucially the fertility of males carrying the mutation was invariably reduced relative to controls. This mutation thus constitutes a promising candidate for the further development of the TFT.