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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, July 31, 2007

IUB biologist receives $530,000 grant to study beetle horn evolution

July 31, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- With the aid of a $530,000, three-year National Science Foundation grant, Indiana University Bloomington biologist Armin Moczek will continue his research into the origin and diversification of beetle horns. Horned beetles are increasingly being recognized as a new model system in evolutionary and developmental biology, and this is the second NSF grant given to Moczek to further develop his study system.

Onthophagus beetles

Photo by: Allison Cooke

Horned beetles from the genus Onthophagus

Print-Quality Photo

Moczek is interested in the evolution of novel traits such as the ornate, often large horns that grow atop the heads of some beetles. Such horns are unique to beetles and serve as a dramatic model for studying how new traits come into being and how and why they change over time.

"Many thousands of species of beetles have evolved horns used as weapons in male competition over females, and a lot of diversity of horn types exists in nature," Moczek said. "Preliminary results suggest that the origin of horns has been made possible by the re-use of a wide diversity of genes and developmental processes normally reserved for various aspects of the development of regular appendages such as legs or mouthparts."

Moczek and his colleagues have three goals: To pin down genes that govern the formation of horns; figure out how programmed cell death (apoptosis) plays a role in horn shaping; and determine how key hormones and growth factors influence the size and location of horns.

As part of the education and outreach portion of the grant, Moczek teaches regular workshops at a science museum for local and regional teachers on the use of insects as a teaching tool in the class room. In addition, he will employ undergraduate researchers and train them in rigorous interdisciplinary research, and host six high school teachers and three high school students in a special summer research program.

To speak with Moczek, please contact David Bricker, IU Media Relations, at 812-856-9035 or