Biology Professor Duane McKenna's Work on Beetles Featured in Genome Biology

November 16, 2016 - University of Memphis Associate Professor of Biology Duane McKenna's work on beetle genomes is featured in the current issue of open access journal Genome Biology. One of the world's foremost experts on beetle genomics, McKenna is lead author on the featured project involving 68 scientists from around the globe who are working to identify the genomic basis of the insect's feeding habits and apparent ecological success.

The Asian long-horned beetle is a globally invasive species capable of inflicting severe damage on many economically important trees. It has recently invaded North America, and its economic impact in the United States, if uncontrolled, is estimated at $889 billion. Identifying genes linked to key digestive and detoxification processes that make this destruction possible will support development of novel tools to manage the negative impacts of this and other invasive wood-boring pests.

By comparing the genome of the Asian long-horned beetle with 14 other insects, McKenna and his collaborators were able to identify a suite of genes, some originally obtained from fungi and bacteria, that aid the digestion of woody plant material and are likely responsible for the beetles' ability to thrive in woodland regions worldwide.

McKenna said, "Our detailed genomic analysis reveals that the Asian long-horned beetle has over 1,000 genes that aren't present in any other arthropod. We identified a total of 86 genes for enzymes called glycoside hydrolases – more than have been found in any other insect. These enzymes enable the beetle to digest woody plant material and detoxify plant chemicals and so indicate a genetic reason for their apparent success in feeding on many different kinds of trees."

The Asian long-horned beetle belongs to the longhorn beetle family, which contains more than 35,000 different species, making it the most diverse group of wood-feeding animals on Earth. The full article is available at https://goo.gl/wlFdmH.

Contact: Gabrielle Maxey