Genetic Sleuths Explain Insects' Resistance

By Adler, Tina | Science News, October 14, 1995 | Go to article overview

Genetic Sleuths Explain Insects' Resistance


Adler, Tina, Science News


Coffee drinkers, take note! The coffee bean's number one enemy, a bug that practices incest as a way of life and goes by the name of Hypothenemus hampei, or the coffee berry borer, can now outwit its archenemy, the pesticide endosulfan. Although investigators believe they have figured out the insect's secret genetic weapon, they have yet to defuse it.

In 1989, scientists discovered that many coffee berry borers on the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia tolerate endosulfan, the most common insecticide used against them. Unlike many other chemicals, this fumigant reaches inside the beans, where the insects lay their eggs. Whether coffee berry borers elsewhere have also become resistant isn't clear.

The secret of the bugs' success lies in their unusual genetic makeup and breeding habits, assert Luc O. Brun of the Institut Franaais de Recherche Scientifique pour le Developpement en Cooperation in Noumea, New Caledonia, and his colleagues in the Oct. 10 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In a previous study, the researchers described a genetic mutation that enables the pests to withstand the insecticide. The mutation has a good chance of spreading through the population because the few males born in each brood mate only with their sisters.

However, there's more to the mutation's success, the team argues.

Most mammals and insects are diploids--they inherit a set of chromosomes from each parent. Haploids, including ants, wasps, and bees, inherit only their mother's chromosomes. Haplodiploids have diploid females and haploid males. …

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