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ARS Scientist Leads National Effort To Decipher Beetle's Genes

By Erin Peabody
November 13, 2003

Scientists will soon have access to the entire genetic blueprint of a key agricultural pest, the red flour beetle, thanks largely to the efforts of an Agricultural Research Service scientist.

The National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, recently gave the green light for this project and has named it a high priority. ARS entomologist Richard Beeman, Kansas State University collaborators Susan Brown and Rob Denell, and Richard Gibbs of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, will sequence the complete genome of the red flour beetle.

That means the beetle, Tribolium castaneum, will soon join the ranks of other model organisms like the fruit fly. But this will be the first time that the genome of a beetle or of an agricultural pest will be sequenced.

Tribolium is a significant pest of stored grain and grain products worldwide. Insight into its ability to establish resistance to many classes of insecticide could open new doors to insect pest management strategies.

Because the red flour beetle is a member of the largest and most diverse animal order, Coleoptera, discoveries about its DNA will shed light on beetles as a group--organisms unmatched in their global abundance, range of habitat and evolutionary success.

Beeman will be supplying the DNA for the project. He'll choose an isogenic, highly inbred strain that is equivalent, he says, to an army of identical beetle twins. The strain's lack of genetic variation will ease the sequencing task.

For two decades, Beeman has been studying the genetics of T. castaneum from his lab at the ARS Grain Marketing and Production Research Center in Manhattan, Kan. His advances in the field, including the project he initiated to assemble a physical map of the beetle genome, will supplement information gained by the sequencing project.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.