The human body louse, Pediculus humanus humanus (L.), and the human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis, belong to the hemimetabolous order Phthiraptera. The body louse is the primary vector that transmits the bacterial agents of louse-borne relapsing fever, trench fever, and epidemic typhus. The genomes of the bacterial causative agents of several of these aforementioned diseases have been sequenced. Thus, determining the body louse genome will enhance studies of host–vector–pathogen interactions. Although not important as a major disease vector, head lice are of major social concern. Resistance to traditional pesticides used to control head and body lice have developed. It is imperative that new molecular targets be discovered for the development of novel compounds to control these insects. No complete genome sequence exists for a hemimetabolous insect species primarily because hemimetabolous insects often have large (2,000 Mb) to very large (up to 16,300 Mb) genomes. Fortuitously, we determined that the human body louse has one of the smallest genome sizes known in insects, suggesting it may be a suitable choice as a minimal hemimetabolous genome in which many genes have been eliminated during its adaptation to human parasitism. Because many louse species infest birds and mammals, the body louse genome-sequencing project will facilitate studies of their comparative genomics. A 6–8× coverage of the body louse genome, plus sequenced expressed sequence tags, should provide the entomological, evolutionary biology, medical, and public health communities with useful genetic information.
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Vol. 43 • No. 6