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Weaving together the threads of the genome of the silk-spinning caddisfly

Caddisflies are miniature underwater architects. As adults, these insects resemble small brown moths, but as larvae, they are busy building underwater homes and cases (Fig. 1). While not as well-known as their closest relatives, the butterflies and moths, caddisflies have long captured the imaginations of amateur naturalists and fly-fishers. They’re important participants in aquatic food webs and, because larvae of different species have varying levels of sensitivity to environmental pollutants, they are used extensively in freshwater biomonitoring initiatives.

Fig. 1. Arctopsyche grandis larva.

Arctopsyche grandis belongs to the family Hydropsychidae, or the net-spinning caddisflies. Members of this family use silk to build retreats, complete with capture nets, that are fixed to the bottom of rocks in the stream (Fig. 2). The silk they use to build these structures is specially adapted for underwater use and adheres to a variety of substrates. The properties of these silks are of interest to biomedical engineers who seek to create bio-inspired adhesives. The variation in the primary silk gene of Arctopsyche grandis was recently described (Frandsen et al. 2023). We aim to use the chromosome-length genome assembly we release today to further understand the genetic processes underlying this extraordinary underwater silk.

Fig. 2. Illustration of an Arctopsyche grandis fixed-retreat and net.

The assembly was done using PacBio HiFi assembled with hifiasm, followed by purge_dups, and scaffolding using Hi-C. Check out the resulting interactive contact map below to browse through the 13 chromosomes of Arctophsyche grandis, and visit the assembly page for more details on the assembly!


P. B. Frandsen, et al., Allelic resolution of insect and spider silk genes reveals hidden genetic diversity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 120, e2221528120 (2023)

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