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USDA Holds First International Meeting on Comparative Insect Genomics

By Sharon Durham
October 29, 2001

The key to controlling insect pests and strengthening beneficial insects in the future could be hidden in their genes. To learn more about these genes and their functions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is holding its first international workshop on insect genomics in Arlington, Va., this week.

The first International Comparative Insect Genomics Workshop, set for Oct. 29-30, is sponsored by two USDA research agencies--the Agricultural Research Service and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. The workshop brings together insect researchers and other experts.

Among the noted experts are Leroy Hood, president and director of the Institute for Systems Biology, who will discuss how the Human Genome Project changed scientific views of biology. Also, keynote speaker Francis S. Collins, director of the federal National Human Genome Research Institute, will detail the course and history of this project.

The field of comparative insect genomics is experiencing an explosion of information and opportunities. Yet, while groups exist for Drosophila (fruit fly) genomics, none address the broad theme of insect genomics.

While much has been learned in recent years about the human genome, little is known about insect genomics. The workshop will help lay the foundation for further study in this area. Scientists are taking inventory of what research is being conducted, what research should be undertaken and what projects might benefit from a more coordinated effort.

Researchers will also discuss how the research should be accomplished and how to fund it. A variety of agriculturally important insect types will be examined, including Anopheles (mosquitos), Caenorhabditis (flatworms), fruit flies, corn rootworms and honey bees.

Other presenters at the workshop include Paul Brey from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France; Fotis Kafatos from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany; Michael Ashburner from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; and Gary Olsen from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Plans are being made to continue providing similar workshops in the future.

ARS is USDA’s chief scientific research agency.