The milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, is currently recognized as an "emerging model organism" (Liu and Kaufman, Cold Spring Harb. Protoc. 2009; doi:10.1101/pdb.emo127 ). It is used as a research species by a number of labs investigating topics in evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), as well as in the fields of neurophysiology and ecological interactions focusing on plants, plant pathogens, and insecticides (Search PubMed: ).
Taxonomically, Oncopeltus is a member of the hemipteran suborder Heteroptera, comprising the “true bugs” (), which is the same suborder as the Chagas disease vector Rhodnius prolixus (the kissing bug ). However, as a member of the seed bug family Lygaeidae, Oncopeltus is much easier to maintain in laboratory culture than its blood feeding relative Rhodnius, and thus offers a suitable comparative platform for research.
Within the field of evo-devo, Oncopeltus offers many advantages as a research organism. It can be easily maintained in culture and offers a continuous supply of eggs year-round (e.g., ). Protocols are well established for common developmental genetics techniques including in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, and RNA interference (embryonic, nymphal, and parental), and the maternal and embryonic transcriptome was recently sequenced (Ewen-Campen, et al., BMC Genomics 2011. 12:61; doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-61 , at NCBI ). Oncopeltus is one of the few hemimetabolous insects that can be readily studied, with all embryonic stages accessible for whole mount investigation. In contrast, many hemimetabolous species have particularly large, yolky eggs that limit their accessibility, have longer embryogenesis and generation times, undergo seasonal diapause, or cannot be maintained in culture.