Department of Entomology


Peter Atkinsonucr entomology

Professor of Entomology
Location: 2234A Genomics
Tel: (951) 827-4782
Fax: (951) 827-5517
E-mail: peter.atkinson@ucr.edu


The research in my laboratory focuses on the development of genetic strategies for the control of pest insect species. One important aspect of this is the use of gene vectors that efficiently introduce genes into these species. These gene vectors must be robust enough to allow the high frequency transformation of a target insect species yet be able to be easily manipulated so they can function as effective genetic tools. Transposable elements are small pieces of DNA that can move within and between genomes and some of these have been developed as rudimentary gene vectors in some insect species. We have participated in the isolation and development of two such transposable elements, the Hermes element from the housefly, Musca domestica and the Herves element from the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. Both are members of the hAT superfamily of transposable elements and this superfamily is related to V(D)J recombination system that is largely responsible for generating antibody diversity in the acquired immune system of higher vertebrates. Hermes can be used to genetically transform in a number of insect species, including the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata, the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti and the northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens quinquefasciatus, which is a vector of West Nile virus. If Hermes (and Herves) are to be used as an efficient genetic tool in these and other species then it is necessary to develop a complete understanding of the molecular basis of their mobility in insect species, including mosquitoes. Much of the research in my laboratory endeavors to do just this. For example, we are deciphering the structure: function relationships of Hermes, exploring whether the Hermes transposase interacts with host-encoded proteins and establishing techniques that will enable the isolation of hyperactive forms of the Hermes element. We are also interested in determining factors that affec the rate of spread of autonomous Hermes elements in Drosophila melanogaster and mosquitoes. Understanding these will enable us to estimate the feasibility of using Hermes elements, as well as other transposable elements, as driving agents in natural populations of insects. We also participate in genome wide screens looking for active transposable elements in insects and humans and have a leadership role in the Culex genome project.


BSc Genetics 1979
University of Melbourne, Australia
PhD Genetics 1986
University of Melbourne, Australia


2006-present Director, UCR Center for Disease Vectors Research
2006 - present Advisory Committee, UCR Institute for Integrative Genome Biology
2004 Associate Director, UCR Institute for Integrative Genome Biology
2003 Interim Director, UCR Genomics Institute.
2001-2003 Associate Director, UCR Genomics Institute
University of Melbourne Postgraduate Scholarship

Research Area

Genetics of medical and agricultural important insects Development of transposable elements as gene vectors in insects


Cruz, J., Sieglaff, D. H., Arensburger, P., Atkinson, P. W., Raikhel, A. S. Nuclear receptors in the mosquito Aedes aegypti: annotation, hormonal regulation and expression profiling. FEBS J. (in press)

Lawson. D., P. Arensburger, P. Atkinson, N. J. Besansky, R. V. Bruggner, R. Butler, K. S. Campbell, G. K. Christophides, S. Christley, E. Dialynas,, M. Hammond, M., C. A. Hill, N. Konopinski, N. F. Lobo, R. M. MacCallum, G. Madey, K. Megy, J. Meyer, S. Redmond, D. W. Severson, E. O. Stinson, P. Topalis, E. Birney, W. M. Gelbart, F. C. Kafatos, C. Louis, F. H. Collins. (2009). VectorBase: a data resource for invertebrate vector genomics. Nucl. Acids Res. 37 (database issue): pD583-587.

Salvemini M., M. Robertson, B. Aronson, P. Atkinson, L. C. Polito, G. Saccone.(2009). Ceratitis capitata transformer-2 gene is required to establish and maintain the autoregulation of Cctra, the master gene for female sex determination. Int. J.Dev. Biol. 53: p109-120.

Atkinson, P. W. Proposed uses of transposons in insect and medical biotechnology (2008). Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 627: 60-70.

Ray, D. A., C. Feschotte, H. J. Pagan, J. D. Smith, E. J. Pritham, P. Arensburger, P. W. Atkinson, and N. L. Craig (2008). Multiple waves of recent DNA transposon activity in the bat, Myotis lucifugus (2008). Genome Res. 18: 717-728.

Tribolium Genome Sequencing Consortium (2008). The genome of the model beetle and pest, Tribolium castaneum. Nature 452;:949-955.

Atkinson, P. W., D. A. O’Brochta and N. L. Craig 2007. The hobo, Hermes and Herves Transposable Elements of Insects. In Vreyson, M. J. B., A. S. Robinson, and J. Hendichs (Eds.), Are-Wide Control of Insect Pests: From Research to Field Implementation. Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands (in press).

Lawson, D., P. Arensburger, P. Atkinson, N. J. Besansky, R. V. Bruggner, R. Butler, K. S. Campbell, G. K. Christophides, S. Christley, E. Dialynas, D. Emmert, M. Hammond, C. A. Hill, R. C. Kennedy, N. F. Lobo, M. R. MacCallum, G. Madey, K. Megy, K. Redmond, S. Russo, D. W. Severson, E. O. Stinson, P. Topalis, E. M. Zdobnov, E. Birney, W. M. Gelbart, F. C. Kafatos, C. Louis, and F. H. Collins. 2007. VectorBase: a home for invertebrate vectors of human pathogens. Nucl. Acids. Res. (in press).

Smith, R. C., M. F. Walter, R. H. Hice, D. A. O’Brochta and P. W. Atkinson 2007. Testes-specific expression of the ß2 tubulin promoter of Aedes aegypti and its application as a genetic sex-separation marker. Insect Mol. Biol. 16: 61-71.

O’Brochta, D. A., Subramanian, R. A., Orsetti, J., Peckham, E., Nolan, N., Arensburger, P., Atkinson, P. W. and J. D. Charlwood. (2006). hAT element population genetics in Anopheles gambiae s.l. in Mozambique. Genetica 127:185-198.

Wang, X. H., R. Aliyari, . X. Li, H. W. Li, K. Kim, R. Carthew, P. Atkinson, and S. W. Ding 2006. RNA interference directs innate immunity in viruses in adult Drosophila. Science 312:452-454.

Atkinson, P. W. 2005. Green light for mosquito control. Nature Biotech.23:1371-1372

Handler, A.M and P.W. Atkinson. 2005. Insect transgensis: mechanisms, applications and ecological safety. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews.

Arensburger, P., Y.J. Kim, J. Orsetti, C. Aluvihare, D.A. O'Brochta and P.W. Atkinson. 2005. An active transposable element, Herves, from the African malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Genetics 169: 697-708.

Zhou, L., R. Mitra, P.W. Atkinson, A.B. Hickman, F. Dyda and N.L. Craig. 2004. Transposition of hAT elements links transposable elements and V(D)J recombination. Nature 432: 995-1001.

Rowan, K.H., J. Orsetti, P.W. Atkinson and D.A. O'Brochta. 2004. Tn5 as an insect gene vector. Insect Biochem. Mol. Biol. 34: 695-705.

O'Brochta, D.A. and P.W. Atkinson. 2004. Transformation systems in insects. Methods. Molec. Biol. 34: 113-120.

Robinson, A.S., G. Franz, P.W. Atkinson. 2004. Insect transgenesis and its potential role in agriculture and human health. Insect Biochem Mol. Biol. 34: 113-120.

Atkinson, P. W. and D. A. O'Brochta. 2004. Transgenic Malaria. In SGM Symposia on Infectious Diseases. Cambridge University Press.

Li, W.-X., H. Li., R. Lu, F. Li., M. Dus, P. Atkinson, E. W. A. Brydon, K. L. Johnson, A. Gracia-Sastre, A. A. Ball, P. Palese and S.-W. Ding. 2004. Interferon antagonist proteins of influenza and vaccinia viruses are suppressors of RNA silencing. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 101, 1350-1355.

Irvin, N., M. S. Hoddle, D. A. O'Brochta, B. Carey, and P. W. Atkinson. 2004. Assessing fitness costs for transgenic Aedes aegypti expressing the GFP marker and transposase genes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101 891-896.

O’Brochta, D. A., N. Sethuramuran, R. Wilson, R. H. Hice, A. C. Pinkerton, C.S Levesque, D. K. Bideshi, N. Jasinskiene, C. J. Coates, A. A. James, M. J. Lehane, and P. W. Atkinson. 2003. Gene Vector and Transposable Element Behavior in Mosquitoes. J. Exp. Biol. 206: 3823-3834.

Michel, K., D. A. O’Brochta, and P. W. Atkinson. (2003) The C-Terminus of the Hermes Transposase Contains a Protein Multimerization Domain. Insect Biochem. and Molec. Biol. 33: 959-970.

Wilson, R., J. Orsetti, A. K. Klocko, C. Aluvihare, E. Peckham, P. W. Atkinson, M. J. Lehane, and D. A. O’Brochta. Post-Integration Behavior of a Mos 1mariner Gene Vector in Aedes aegypti. Insect Biochemistry and Molec. Biol. 33: 853-863.

Michel, K. and P. W. Atkinson. 2003. Nuclear Location of the Hermes Transposase Depends on Basic Amino Acid Residues at the N-Terminus of the Protein. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry 89: 778-790.

Guimond, N. D. K. Bideshi, A. C. Pinkerton, P. W. Atkinson, and D. A. O’Brochta. 2003. Patterns of Hermes Transposition in Drosophila melanogaster. Mol. Gen. Genomics 268: 779-790.

Michel, K., D. A. O’Brochta, and P. W. Atkinson. Does the DSE motif form the active center in the Hermes transposase? Gene 298: 141-146.

Holt, R. A. , et al., The genome sequence of the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Science 298: 129-149.

Atkinson, P. W. Transgenic mosquitoes and DNA research safeguards, in “The Biology of Disease Vectors (2nd edition):, B. J. Beaty and W. C. Marquardt (eds.) Colorado State University Press.

Atkinson, P. W. 2002. Genetic engineering in insects of agricultural importance. Insect Biochem. Molec. Biol. 32: 1237-1242.

Atkinson, P. W., and K. Michel, 2002. Drosophila melanogaster germ-line transformation, in “Encyclopedia of Life Sciences” Nature Publishing Group, Macmillan Press. Online.

Atkinson, P. W., and D. A. O’Brochta, 2002. Genetic Engineering of Insects, in “Encyclopedia of Insects”, R. T. Carde and V.H. Resh (eds.). Academic Press. pp 471-478.

O’Brochta, D. A. and Atkinson, P. W. Transformation systems in insects. In: Mobile Genetic Elements: Protocols and Genomic Implications, W. J. Miller and P. Capy (eds.). Humana Press.

Atkinson, P. W., and A. A. James, 2002. Germline transformants spreading out to many insect species. Advances in Genetics 47: 49-86.

Atkinson, P. W., and K. Michel, 2002. What’s buzzing? Mosquito genomics and transgenic mosquitoes. Genesis 32: 42-48.

Allen, M. L., D. A. O’Brochta, P. W. Atkinson, and C. S. LeVesque, 2001. Stable, germ-line transformation of Culex quinquefasciatus (Diptera: Culicidae). J. Med. Entomol. 38: 701-710.

Michel, K., A. Stamenova, A. C. Pinkerton, G. Franz, A. S. Robinson, A. Gariou-Papalexious, A. Zacharopoulou, D. A. O’Brochta and P. W. Atkinson 2001. Hermes-mediated germ-line transformation of the Mediterranean fruit fly Ceratitis capitata. Insect Molec. Biol. 10: 155-162.

Atkinson, P. W., A. C. Pinkerton and D. A. O’Brochta, 2001. Genetic transformation systems in insects. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 46: 317-346.

Atkinson, P. W. and D. A. O’Brochta, 2000. Hermes and other hAT elements as gene vectors in insects. In “Insect Transgenesis – Methods and Applications” eds: A. M. Handler and A. A. James, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. pp 219-235.

Morgan, D. J., S. R. Reitz, P. W. Atkinson and J. T. Trumble 2000. The resolution of Californian populations of Liriomyza huidobrensis and Liriomyza trifolii (Diptera: Agromyzidae) using PCR. Heredity 85: 53-61.

Atkinson, P. W. and O’Brochta, D. A. 2000. Arriving at the age of pest insect transgenesis. In “Area-Wide Control of Fruit Flies and Other Insect Pests” ed. K. H. Tan. Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.

Pinkerton, A. C., K. Michel, D. A. O’Brochta and P. W. Atkinson, 2000. Green fluorescent protein as a genetic marker in transgenic Aedes aegypti. Insect Molec. Biol .9: 1-10.

Saville, K. J., W. D. Warren, P. W. Atkinson and D. A. O’Brochta 1999. Integration specificity of the hobo element of Drosophila melanogaster is dependent on sequences flanking the target site. Genetica.105: 133-147.

Atkinson, P. W. and D. A. O’Brochta, 1999. Genetic transformation of non-drosophilid insects by transposable elements. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 92: 930-936.

Pinkerton, A. C., S. Whyard, H. A. Mende, C. J. Coates, D. A. O’Brochta and P. W. Atkinson, 1999. The Queensland fruit fly, Bactrocera tryoni, contains multiple members of the hAT family of transposable elements. Insect Molec. Biol. 8: 423-434.

Saville, K. J., W. D. Warren, P. W. Atkinson, and D. A. O’Brochta. 1999. Integration specificity of the hobo element of Drosophila melanogaster is dependent on sequences flanking the integration site. Genetica 105: 133-147.

Sundararajan, P., P. W. Atkinson, and D. A. O’Brochta. 1999. Transposable element interactions in insects: crossmobilization of hobo and Hermes. Insect Mol. Biol. 8: 359-368.

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