Primordial germ cell (PGC) formation in holometabolous insects like Drosophila melanogaster relies on maternally synthesised germ cell determinants that are asymmetrically localised to the oocyte posterior cortex. Embryonic nuclei that inherit this "germ plasm" acquire PGC fate. In contrast, historical studies of basally branching insects (Hemimetabola) suggest that a maternal requirement for germ line genes in PGC specification may be a derived character confined principally to Holometabola. However, there have been remarkably few investigations of germ line gene expression and function in hemimetabolous insects. Here we characterise PGC formation in the milkweed bug Oncopeltus fasciatus, a member of the sister group to Holometabola, thus providing an important evolutionary comparison to members of this clade. We examine the transcript distribution of orthologues of 19 Drosophila germ cell and/or germ plasm marker genes, and show that none of them localise asymmetrically within Oncopeltus oocytes or early embryos. Using multiple molecular and cytological criteria, we provide evidence that PGCs form after cellularisation at the site of gastrulation. Functional studies of vasa and tudor reveal that these genes are not required for germ cell formation, but that vasa is required in adult males for spermatogenesis. Taken together, our results provide evidence that Oncopeltus germ cells may form in the absence of germ plasm, consistent with the hypothesis that germ plasm is a derived strategy of germ cell specification in insects.
Keywords: Germ line; RNA interference; Spermatogenesis; boule; tudor; vasa.