ARLINGTON - University of Texas at Arlington biologist Jeff Demuth and biologist Mike Wade of Indiana University Bloomington will receive $2 million to study speciation of the grain pest Tribolium castaneum or the red flour beetle.
The National Institutes of Health grant promises $328,535 in direct costs for the first year of the four-year grant period. The project will investigate why individuals from populations in different parts of the world often do not produce healthy, flour-chomping offspring when brought together in the laboratory.
Tribolium castaneum has achieved worldwide distribution thanks to human commerce. The species seems to be evolving before scientists' eyes, though the process of producing a new species does not yet appear complete.
Some beetles collected from different parts of the world are genetically incompatible, unable to reproduce with each other or unable to produce healthy young. Males from one population that mate with females of another often produce hybrids with lower viability, lower fertility and deformities. Demuth, Wade and their colleagues will look for genetic causes underlying the problems observed in hybrid offspring.
Rather than concentrate on single-gene effects, the scientists will look for suites of interacting genes that influence an individual beetle's fitness. Their approach is applicable to human health research because the genetic bases of many complex human diseases, such as autism, obesity and diabetes are caused by the interactions among many genes, Demuth said.
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