Key Red Flour Beetle Gene Sequenced

Researchers have determined the genetic code of the so-called "selfish" gene in the red flour beetle.

July 31, 2008

Tracking the red flour beetle in grain storage facilities could become easier, thanks to research to identify a key gene in this grain-feeding pest.

Researchers with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Purdue University, the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Kansas State University, and Exelixis, Inc. in South San Francisco, Calif., have determined the genetic code of the so-called "selfish" gene in the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum).

This genetic information may offer a potential tracking tool for facilities where grain is stored. Operators could use the information to determine whether beetles are local or from a distant location--and even to develop a plan to control infestations. 

ARS entomologist Richard Beeman and molecular biologist Marcé D. Lorenzen at the agency's Grain Marketing and Production Research Center in Manhattan, Kan., deciphered the genetic code of the "selfish" gene. The research was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The selfish gene is important because red flour beetles that don't inherit it from their mother don't survive.  It is called the selfish gene because, whether beneficial or deleterious, it ensures its own perpetuation through the population.  These genes are widespread in natural populations of red flour beetles, but are otherwise unknown in the invertebrate world.

According to Beeman, the discovery in red flour beetle may provide a useful vehicle for driving desirable genes into populations, since the gene spreads almost like a disease, and since hitchhiker genes can be attached to it.  Malaria researchers think other, similar genes introduced into mosquito populations could reduce the spread of mosquito-borne malaria infections.  It may be possible to "attach" another gene to the malaria gene that could negate or minimize its function, thus impeding mosquitoes from spreading the disease.

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Source: USDA-ARS