story to find out more.
The eyes on this red flour beetle are white or
clearnot the typical black colorbecause of a defective pigment
gene. Other defective genes are being discovered by ARS scientists and
exploited as possible biopesticide targets. Click the image for more
information about it.
Probing the Genes of an Eccentric Beetle Pest
By Erin Peabody
November 2, 2005
Before you take a swat at that next
buggy kitchen invader, think again. It could be the red flour beetle, one of
science's most distinguished organisms.
Thanks largely to the efforts of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist
Beeman, this insect--best known for sneaking flour from kitchen
cupboards--became the first beetle and agricultural pest to have its genome
sequenced. The final data from the project, all of the beetle's deconstructed
DNA, was recently released.
For 26 years, Beeman, who works at the ARS
Marketing and Production Center in Manhattan, Kan., has been studying the
voracious pest which, together with its grain-infesting cousins, causes
billions of dollars of damage annually to stored grains.
The insect also possesses several odd quirks that the just-completed
sequencing data should help illuminate. For instance, unlike other insects,
such as nectar-foraging bees and blood-hungry mosquitoes, the red flour beetle
isn't at all choosy about what it eats.
While feeding mostly on wheat flour, it can survive on a wide range of
foodstuffs, including cornmeal, nuts, crackers, cake mix--even chocolate.
The genes underlying the beetle's ability to eat and digest just about
anything intrigue Beeman. And he's hoping to pinpoint which of its roughly
15,000 genes allow the insect to live out its entire year-long life without
ever needing a drop of water.
The insect also has two pairs of peculiar "stink" glands that
continuously churn out a fragrant, oily substance that may help protect it from
pathogens. According to Beeman, when rearing hundreds of these beetles in his
lab, the mysterious substance eventually oxidized, causing a purplish
discoloration to form throughout the insect's lab environment.
Beeman's genetic probing should not only increase the basic understanding of
the complex inner workings of insects, but also lead to better and more
eco-friendly pest control tactics.
more about the research in the November 2005 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.