Researchers recently explored the intact organs and tissues of tsetse flies, carriers of the parasites causing a fatal infection identified as African sleeping sickness, specifically their reproductive biology.

Such an exploration took place for the study authors to better understand the said fly species' reproductive biology by using a powerful 3D x-ray imaging method at Berkeley Lab. reported said imaging technique offered new insights on the manner the specialized biology of these flies is governing "mating and reproductive processes," which include the unique lactation of female flies, as well as their delivery of a single completely developed larvae for each birthing cycle, while most other species of insects lay eggs.

Essentially, the ALS is producing X-rays and other forms of light for a wide range of simultaneous scientific investigations.

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Science Times - Researchers Explore Tsetse Flies’ Reproductive Biology, Provide New Insights Using 3-D Imaging Method
(Photo: International Atomic Energy Agency - International Atomic Energy Agency on Wikimedia Commons)
Humans can get the African sleeping sickness when bitten by an infected Tsetse fly.

Prepared at Different Stages of Reproductive Cycle

The said report indicated that fly samples were prepared at different stages of the reproductive cycle. Scientists are eventually targeting to pair the imaging data with the expression of genes and "biochemical data" from this cycle's similar stages.

According to UC Davis, assistant professor of entomology and nematology Geoffrey Attardo, they want to understand what changes are taking place during this process, how such a procedure is being mediated, and if "it can be operated to artificially repress females in the wild from mating," which would ideally control the transmission of the disease.

In 2015, roughly 3,500 people died due to African sleeping sickness, and an estimate of 11,000 people are now approximated to be infested. Reports said the infection is deadly if it is left untreated by a drug or medication.

Attardo headed a study that the Journal Insects published. It detailed the ALS imaging work. In relation to the work, the ALS experiments produced better results than they were expected, he said.

The African Sleeping Sickness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this sleeping sickness, also called the African trypanosomiasis disease, "is caused by a parasite." Humans can get this parasite when an infested Tsetse fly bites them.

Symptoms of this disease include fatigue, high fever, headaches, and muscle aches. If the illness remains untreated, it can lead to a person's death.

Additionally, tsetse flies are found in sub-Saharan Africa. Those traveling and spending long hours outdoors or going to game parks in these places can be bitten by the said flies and get infected.

The 'Spermatophore'

While some other techniques need dissection and straining processes that introduce impairment to the delicate samples, Attardo explained, their work enabled them to "create a detailed 3D visualization of the reproductive tissues" in the tsetse flies' native context, along with slight investigational manipulation.

The ALS experiments offered a pioneering, detailed appearance at the "intact structure of a sperm-delivery structure" also known as a "spermatophore," fully occupying the uterus of a female fly after mating, for instance, and other reproductive-tract tissues' detailed imaging that's relevant to lactation and birth.

Describing the new discovery, ALS staff scientist Dula Parkinson, who's also the Diffraction and Imaging Program leader who took part in the study, said, "I love that as a staff member at the ALS," and that he could help allow science that's making a difference in the world.

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