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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tiny wasps have lost their nuclei

Fairy wasps (sometimes called fairyflies) are extremely small insects.  At 200 micrometers in length, seven of these tiny parasites could fit across the head of a pin. So how does this multicellular wasp squeeze its cells into the space some organisms reserve for a single cell?  In part, by shedding nuclei from their neurons.


Fairy wasp (Megaphragma mymaripenne) shown compared to a paramecium and an amoeba.
Credit: Alexey Polilov.

Alexey Polilov of Lomonosov Moscow State University compared the neurons of adult fairy wasps with those of fairy wasp pupae.  Although the juvenile neurons appeared completely normal, up to 95% of the adult neurons were missing a nucleus.  While there are cells that routinely lack a nucleus (red blood cells, for example), neurons are not usually among them. 

Needless to say, this is rather odd.  After all, neurons are pretty important cells.  If an organism wanted to get rid of excess mass, I wouldn’t think it would do so by tampering with its neurons.  Still, these insects are able to function perfectly well, so maybe nuclei are overrated. 

Hat tip:  Jennifer Ouellette.