K-State scientists’ beetle chosen for national genome sequencing project

The red flour beetle can be a pest in massive grain elevators or in the 5-pound sack of flour in your kitchen. But it also can be an important organism in the field of genetic research.

As the result of research performed by scientists from Kansas State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Marketing and Production Research Lab in Manhattan, the red flour beetle has been selected from a long list of nominated organisms for genome sequencing by the National Human Genome Research Institute, an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

As in the case of the human genome, the description of the entire genetic information of the red flour beetle will facilitate a number of important new experimental approaches, according to Susan Brown, associate professor of biology at K-State and principal investigator for the red flour beetle genome project.

Co-investigators on the project include Rob Denell, university distinguished professor of biology and director of the Terry C. Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research, and Richard Beeman, adjunct professor of entomology at K-State and a research entomologist at the U.S. Grain Marketing and Production Research Center.

According to Brown, K-State’s selection follows many years of work to expand upon the usefulness of the flour beetle for genetic research. She said the beetle is now used in studies ranging from control of embryonic development to strategies for controlling harmful insects.

“With completion of the human genome project, the National Human Genome Research Institute has a great deal of sequencing capacity at its disposal, and has been establishing priorities for sequencing other organisms,” Brown said. “Other animals given high priority for genome sequencing during the past year and a half include the chimpanzee, chicken, cow and dog. Clearly, we are in important company.”

The multimillion dollar commitment by the National Human Genome Research Institute will be accompanied by a $200,000 contribution from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funds will be given to one of the national sequencing centers, which will then forward the sequence data to the researchers in Manhattan. The researchers will interpret the data and make the information available to the scientific community via the World Wide Web.

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