Head and body lice are both blood-feeding parasites of humans although only the body louse is a potent disease vector. In spite of numerous morphological and life history differences, head and body lice have recently been hypothesized to be ecotypes of the same species. We took a comparative genomics approach to measure nucleotide diversity by comparing expressed sequence tag data sets from head and body lice. A total of 10 771 body louse and 10 770 head louse transcripts were predicted from a combined assembly of Roche 454 and Illumina sequenced cDNAs from whole body tissues collected at all life stages and during pesticide exposure and bacterial infection treatments. Illumina reads mapped to the 10 775 draft body louse gene models from the whole genome assembly predicted nine presence/absence differences, but PCR confirmation resulted in a single gene difference. Read per million base pair estimates indicated that 14 genes showed significant differential expression between head and body lice under our treatment conditions. One novel microRNA was predicted in both lice species and 99% of the 544 transcripts from Candidatus riesia indicate that they share the same endosymbiont. Overall, few differences exist, which supports the hypothesis that these two organisms are ecotypes of the same species.
© 2012 The Authors. Insect Molecular Biology © 2012 The Royal Entomological Society.