Tobacco Hornworm Genome Project

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

About the Project

As a collaborative project with Mike Kanost (Kansas State University) and Gary Blissard (Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University), we sequenced the genome and a variety of transcriptomes of Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae). Manduca sexta is commonly known as the tobacco hornworm or Carolina sphinx moth. Because of its large size, M. sexta serves as one of the most important insect models for invertebrate physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology.

Studies over the past 40+ years have included almost every area of insect biology, including neurobiology, endocrine regulation, chemical sensing (chemoreception, sexual and feeding attractants), behavior, development, metamorphosis, immunology, antimicrobial defenses, locomotion and flight, digestive and gut physiology, toxicology, parasitism, microbial interactions, symbiosis, pathology, and plant-insect interactions. As such, M. sexta represents a powerful, well developed, and tractable experimental system.

In nature, M. sexta larvae feed voraciously on plants in the family Solanaceae (tobacco, tomato, potato, etc.). Larvae grow to a very large size, typically reaching weights of 10-12 grams in the 5th larval instar. At the end of the last larval instar, larvae burrow into the soil and pupate. After emergence, adults feed on the nectar from flowers. Adults are active and fly at dusk, and females lay eggs on the leaves of host plants. In the Americas, M. sexta can be found from Massachusetts to northern California, and south as far as Costa Rica, and to Argentina and Chile.

The M. sexta genome contains 28 chromosomes and prior BAC-FISH studies suggest extensive synteny with the genome of the silkmoth, Bombyx mori (Bombycidae). The genome size is ~500 MB. The genome sequence will aid current and future studies using M. sexta as a model system for research on fundamental processes in neurobiology, endocrinology, lipid metabolism, and innate immunity. As an important and intensively studied model for insect physiology and biochemistry, the M. sexta genome sequence will lead to a more rapid and advanced understanding of many of the basic mechanisms important in insect interactions with plants, other insects, and microbes. Such studies will have application to biomedicine (insect-vectored diseases) and agriculture (insect-plant interactions).

The Manduca sexta sequencing project is funded by grants from the NIH NIGMS and DARPA.

This work has been published in Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, "Multifaceted biological insights from a draft genome sequence of the tobacco hornworm moth, Manduca sexta." We at the BCM-HGSC would like to thank the many members of the M. sexta community whose hard work has made this a successful project.

Access to the Data

Additional Resources

Learn more about the tobacco hornworm