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Hessian fly
Red Flour Beetle


Red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum)

Tribolium is a globally distributed pest of stored grain and grain products, and the number one arthropod vector of vertebrate tapeworm, as well as a model for other pest beetles. For many decades, it was used to study insecticide resistance and population genetics/ecology, but genetic studies were rudimentary. During the last fifteen years, through efforts at Kansas State University and by collaborators in Germany, tremendous progress has been made, and Tribolium is now considered the second most powerful insect experimental system (after Drosophila) for genetic and molecular studies. In Manhattan, that effort has been led by Richard Beeman (USDA and ancillary faculty member of KSU), Rob Denell, and Susan Brown (Biology).  Collectively, these investigators have generated more than 50 papers on Tribolium, including those in such prestigious journals as Nature (2), Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They currently have active extramural grants totaling ca. $3M for their Tribolium research. The status of Tribolium as an experimental system is demonstrated by its choice by the National Institutes of Health as the fourth insect genome to be sequenced (after two Drosophila species, the malaria mosquito, and the honeybee). This sequencing effort, which cost over $2M, resulted from a proposal written by Brown and colleagues.

Until recently, the power of the Tribolium system has been utilized for experimental studies with two major foci. Beeman’s group has concentrated on the acquisition of insecticide resistance, while the Brown/Denell/Beeman group has utilized the insect for developmental genetic studies relevant to our understanding of the evolution of genetic mechanisms. More recently, other K-State faculty members have undertaken Tribolium studies. Karl Kramer (USDA/Biochemistry), Michael Kanost (Biochemistry), Subbaratnam Muthukrishnan (Biochemistry) and Richard Beeman have two current and one pending NSF awards/proposal to study chitin metabolism and cuticle scleritization. Entomology faculty member Yoonseong Park studies neuropeptide and other hormone receptors, Rollie Clem (Biology) is assessing apoptosis, and Tonia Von Ohlen (Biology) is studying neurogenesis. Brenda Oppert (USDA/Entomology) is using high-throughput sequencing to determine differences in the midgut of coleopteran pests that ingest plant or bacterial toxins.  Information from these experiments will be used to define toxin mode of action in coleopterans and also to provide new information on genes specific to the coleopteran gut. 


Tribolium paper published in Nature.
The genome of the model beetle and pest Tribolium castaneum
Tribolium Genome Sequencing Consortium
Nature 452, 949-955(24 April 2008)
Download PDF of article.

Tribolium castaneum is a member of the most species-rich eukaryotic order, a powerful model organism for the study of generalized insect development, and an important pest of stored agricultural products. We describe its genome sequence here. This omnivorous beetle has evolved the ability to interact with a diverse chemical environment, as shown by large expansions in odorant and gustatory receptors, as well as P450 and other detoxification enzymes. Development in Tribolium is more representative of other insects than is Drosophila, a fact reflected in gene content and function. For example, Tribolium has retained more ancestral genes involved in cell–cell communication than Drosophila, some being expressed in the growth zone crucial for axial elongation in short-germ development. Systemic RNA interference in T. castaneum functions differently from that in Caenorhabditis elegans, but nevertheless offers similar power for the elucidation of gene function and identification of targets for selective insect control.


©2006 K-State Center for Arthropod Genomics. Funded with support from KSU Targeted Excellence.