The Genome of a Model Agricultural Pest

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A red beetle to the red planet?


By far, the most successful and evolutionarily diverse animals are the beetles (400,000 described species), which can luminesce, spit highly corrosive liquids, and visually, behaviorally, and chemically mimic bees, wasps, and ants. This embarrassment of taxonomic riches has prompted J. B. S. Haldane to state: If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his Creation, it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for beetles. Many beetle species, such as boll weevils, corn rootworms, potato beetles and longhorn beetles, are associated with billions of dollars of agricultural losses.

The red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, a widespread pest for dried commodities such as corn, maize, rice, and flour, and a model organism in population genetics and developmental biology has become the first coleopteran to have its genome sequenced. The sequencing, annotation and analysis of the 200 million nucleotides and 16,000 genes were conducted by an international consortium consisting of 64 research groups from 14 countries and reported in the journal Nature. Drs. Dan Graur and Giddy Landan and graduate student Eran Elhaik from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston took part in the compositional analyses of this genome.

Tribolium beetles thrive in extremely arid environments they mostly survive on metabolic water and have an extremely varied and cosmopolitan palate. This independence of water makes Tribolium a prime-candidate as a research organism during the long-term space flight, such as the one planned for Mars.

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