Phylogenetic study furthers our understanding of phorid flies

Tuesday, 03 November, 2020 | Supplied by: SciTech Pty Ltd

ioLight’s Magnificent Mobile Microscope collection of high-resolution portable microscopes has helped researchers further scientific understanding of the Megaselia Rondani genus, which belongs to the phorid fly family.

Using a 1 mm pocket microscope from ioLight, the Swedish research team captured 1 µm resolution images of the specimens’ setae to illustrate the morphological differences between three of the groups of Megaselia identified: the spinigera group, the ruficornis group and the ‘core’ Megaselia (represented by generic type species Megaselia costalis. Published in the journal Systematic Entomology, theirs is said to be the largest study to date of Megaselia relationships based on molecular data from one nuclear and three mitochondrial markers.

Lead analyst Emily Hartop required a portable and compact microscope to support her preliminary phylogenetic analysis of Megaselia and ongoing research. Using an ioLight microscope, she was able to analyse specimens everywhere from her living room to a laboratory on the other side of the world, capture important morphological features and Z-stack the images to achieve a detailed 3D depiction of the phorid flies.

Figure A: The ruficornis group displays strongly differentiated intra-allar setae (as marked with arrows). Figure B: The spingera group are identified by the row of differentiated setae on the posterior margin of scutum, between posterocentral setae. Figure C: Generic type species Megaselia costalis indicates reduced setation, which has been proposed as a potential diagnostic feature of ‘core’ Megaselia.

With nearly 1700 described species and significantly more undiscovered, the Megaselia genus is notoriously challenging to study due to its extreme species diversity, limited knowledge of higher-level relationships and lack of molecular data. The new study provides a framework for future work that Hartop hopes will determine how big the Megaselia genus is, in terms of the number of species, their life history and habitats; the spatial and temporal distributions of the species; and the different evolutionary clades that may be identified in the genus.

The study’s primary finding revealed that the majority of the diversity found — 20 of the 22 species groups — was in the ‘core’ of the Megaselia genus, while two groups were outside: ruficornis and spinigera. If future studies indicate the same relationships, including the illustrated setal patterns, the research team believes a definition of Megaselia can be confirmed, resulting in a significant step forward for scientific understanding and categorisation of the genus.

“We are delighted that ioLight’s images play an important part in furthering the understanding of such a large and diverse genus as the Megaselia phorid fly,” said ioLight co-founder Andrew Monk. “Supporting and helping to enable scientific study has always been our mission and to appear in our first peer-reviewed paper is a wonderful step towards increasing the accessibility of science.”

“Democratising science is hugely important,” Hartop added. “If people around the world are unable to do the same science that we’re able to do in countries that are more fortunate, then that is limiting science significantly. ioLight can be a big part of helping to change this.

“I didn’t set out to be the first scientist to publish a peer-reviewed journal article with ioLight’s images, but that’s exciting because it shows that a portable, compact microscope is perfectly capable of creating quality images suitable for publication in respected journals.”

Top image credit: © Larsson

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