Bulletin of Entomological Research

Review Article

Molecular methods for assessing insect parasitism

M.H. Greenstonea1 c1

a1 USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Insect Biocontrol Laboratory, Room 214, Building 011A, BARC-West, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA


Determining insect parasitism rates is problematic due to the small size and lack of useful distinguishing morphological characters of many parasitoid taxa. To solve this problem, entomologists have employed one of four general methods to detect parasitoid protein or nucleic acid markers: serological assay; random amplified polymorphic DNA–polymerase chain reaction “RAPD-PCR” allozyme electrophoresis; or specific PCR. Serological methods, especially with monoclonal antibodies, are unrivalled for specificity, enabling discrimination at the stage as well as species level. However, they have not found favour with many workers, possibly due to complexity and expense. RAPD–PCR has been widely used, but can only be recommended for restricted applications because of its poor reproducibility. Allozyme electrophoresis provides reproducible detection and discrimination of closely related species. Specific-PCR is highly specific and reproducible, and also has the shortest latency for detection, usually 24 h or less after parasitization. The substantial existing literature on allozyme electrophoresis and specific PCR is used to support recommendations on what are apt to be fruitful enzyme systems or genomic regions for detecting and discriminating parasitoids in untried parasitoid–host assemblages.

(Accepted September 07 2005)


c1 *Fax: 301 504 5104 E-mail: greenstm@ba.ars.usda.gov