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Mike Wade
IU Bloomington Department of Biology

David Bricker
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009

Indiana University biologist Mike Wade helps land $2 million grant

March 2, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind -- Indiana University Bloomington biologist Mike Wade and University of Texas Arlington biologist Jeff Demuth will receive $2 million to study speciation of the grain pest Tribolium castaneum, or red flour beetle.

Red flour beetle

Photo by: Rhea Datta

The red flour beetle is a grain pest

Print-Quality Photo

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 of the species from different parts of the world often do not produce evolutionarily fit, flour-chomping offspring.

Tribolium castaneum has achieved worldwide distribution thanks to human commerce. The species seems to be evolving before scientists' eyes -- though most experts agree it has not yet produced a new species.

Some beetles collected from different parts of the world are genetically incompatible, unable to reproduce with each other or unable to produce healthy young. Mating males from one population with females of another often produces hybrids with lower viability, lower fertility and deformities.

"Although you might look at it as one species worldwide, one local population is really quite different from another local population," Wade said. "We're trying to find out why populations become so genetically different that they can no longer freely interbreed."

Wade, Demuth and colleagues will look for genes that could cause the problems they observe in hybrid offspring. The effect of a gene depends largely on "the company it keeps," Wade said.

Rather than concentrate on single-gene effects, the scientists will look for suites of interacting genes that influence an individual beetle's fitness. This approach is applicable to human health research. Many human diseases, such as autism, obesity and diabetes, are caused by the action of many genes.

"Our approach is a model for studying some human diseases," Wade said. "In humans, bad gene combinations can cause complex diseases. In our beetles, bad combinations cause the hybrids to be infertile, unviable or deformed."

To speak with Wade, please call 812-856-4680 or e-mail