Venoms have developed in many animal groups independently of each other. One group that has many venomous species is Hymenoptera, an insect order that also includes aculeates (stinging insects) such as bees, wasps and ants. Hymenoptera is very species-rich, with over 6,000 species of bees alone. And yet, despite the great ecological and economic importance of hymenopterans, very little is known about the evolutionary development of their venoms. By means of comparative genomics, researchers led by Dr. Björn von Reumont, who is currently a visiting scientist in the Applied Bioinformatics Working Group at the Institute for Cell Biology & Neuroscience of Goethe University Frankfurt, have now examined systematically, and for the first time, how the most important components of the venom of bees and other hymenopteran taxa developed in the course of evolution. The toxins are complex mixtures composed of small proteins (peptides) and a few large proteins and enzymes. Stinging insects actively inject this poisonous cocktail into their prey or attackers with the help of a special sting apparatus.
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