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Researchers Propose Standardized Naming of Lab-Reared Insect Stocks

Asian longhorned beetles

Asian longhorned beetles (Anoplophora glabripennis) are among the species reared at the Insect Production and Quarantine Laboratories at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Ontario, Canada. Researchers there have crafted a standardized naming convention for their laboratory insect stocks, and they suggest other similar facilities could adopt it, as well. (Photo credit: Amanda Roe, Ph.D.)

What’s in a name? Well, if it’s the name of a stock of lab-reared insects, maybe not enough.

For model organisms in biology such as mice and fruit flies, standardized naming conventions have long been in place to identify the species and provenance of individual lab stocks, which allow researchers to ensure “apples-to-apples” comparisons across scientific literature. Beyond fruit flies, though, no similar standardized naming exists for lab-reared populations of other insects.

But one day that could change. In a report published this month in the open-access Journal of Insect Science, a team at the Insect Production and Quarantine Laboratories (IPQL) at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Ontario, Canada, provides a codified naming structure for the species reared at IPQL, and they propose it as a standard for other such facilities to consider.

Amanda Roe, Ph.D., lead author of the report, joined IPQL in 2016, and one of her early goals was to learn about its history. Information about the insect colonies, though, was scattered among archives and staff recollections. “I started to notice misrepresentations of our insects within the literature,” she says. “This made me realize why it was important to capture as much about the history of our insect colonies and present that information, or ‘metadata’ if you will, in a public forum.”

IPQL maintains stocks of eight different insect species, including the spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) and the Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis, or ALB for short). For example, Roe and colleagues propose “Glfc:IPQL:AglaWMA01” as the new code name for one maintained ALB populations.

It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but it’s meant to represent a condensed form of colony information:

Proposed standard code for IPQL insect stock

A team at the Insect Production and Quarantine Laboratories at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Ontario, Canada, has proposed a five-part naming convention for stocks of lab-reared insects. (Image originally published in Roe et al 2018, Journal of Insect Science)

The IPQL team based their naming structure on existing conventions for mice and fruit flies. “I didn’t see a need to reinvent the wheel,” Roe says.

At the very least, the published information about the IPQL insect stocks will improve their identification when used in future research. But, if other labs adopted this or a similar naming convention for their own reared insect colonies, it could improve replicability across the field.

“Standard naming eliminates confusion and allows us to precisely define what organisms are used to conduct an experiment,” Roe says. “Without a unique identifier, it is challenging to link new results to existing literature.”

haemolymph collection at GLFC

A technician Insect Production and Quarantine Laboratories at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre extracts hemolymph from an Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) larva to study overwintering physiology. (Photo credit: Amanda Roe, Ph.D.)

Potential hurdles to a widely adopted naming standard include the challenge of tracking down the origin and history of certain lab stocks, plus the need for a regularly maintained, central repository for the data. And that’s not to mention simply mustering the collective buy-in among the scientific community that this type of knowledge is critical to the science, Roe says: “It is only when we value this information that there will be a broader adoption of our proposed changes.”

Nonetheless, Roe says she is optimistic, and digging up the history of IPQL’s stocks revealed some interesting origin stories. “I hope to see other labs and research organizations take similar steps to unearth their own colonies’ origin stories,” Roe says. “Collectively we can improve the knowledge of our insect resources and ensure that this knowledge is effectively communicated to other in the research field.”

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