Twenty researchers — more than half of them Simon Fraser University (SFU) graduates and/or faculty — could become eastern Canada’s knights in shining white lab coats. A paper detailing their newly created sequencing of the mountain pine beetle’s (MPB) genome will be gold in the hands of scientists trying to stem the beetle’s invasion into eastern forests. The research was published in an open-access article in Genome Biology on March 27, 2013. “We know a lot about how beetle infestations can devastate forests, just as the mountain pine beetle (MPB) has been doing to British Columbia’s lodgepole pines,” says Dr. Christopher Keeling, the paper’s lead author. The SFU graduate, now a research associate in Dr. Joerg Bohlmann’s Lab at the University of British Columbia’s Michael Smith Laboratories, says, “It’s the beetle’s genome that will help us figure out exactly how it does its damage and hopefully stop it.” The genome reveals large variations among individuals in the MPB species — about four times greater than the variation among humans. “As the beetles’ range expands and as they head into jack pine forests where the defensive compounds may be different, this variation could allow them to be more successful in new environments,” explains Dr. Keeling. Eastern Canadians are bracing for the British Columbia (B.C.) MPB’s threat to appear in Ontario, Quebec, and Maritime forests during the next two decades. The rice grain-sized insect has already wiped out an area of B.C. lodgepole pine forest five times larger than the size of Vancouver Island. It is becoming the scourge of Alberta’s forests and is headed for Saskatchewan. “The MPB genome allows us to examine the population differences for beetles at various parts of an outbreak.
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