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Initiative Launched to Sequence 5,000 Insects

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A project aimed at sequencing 5,000 insects and other arthropods has been launched.

Called the i5k Initiative, but also known as the 5,000 Insect Genome Project, the project's goal is to sequence the genomes of 5,000 insects and other arthropods during the next five years to gain a better understanding of insect biology and better manage those that pose threats to human health, the food supply, and economic security.

On the project's wiki page, organizers said that the plan is to sequence insect species "known to be important to worldwide agriculture, food safety, medicine, and energy production; all those used as models in biology; the most abundant in world ecosystems; and representatives in every branch of insect phylogeny so as to achieve a deep understanding of arthropod evolution and phylogeny."

The effort could provide better models for insecticide resistance and new-pesticide development, improved understanding of disease transmission, and improved control of agricultural pests, Daniel Lawson, coordinator of the European Bioinformatics Institute, said in a statement.

Kevin Hackett, a national program leader at the US Department of Agriculture, noted that one project of i5k could be mining data for cytochrome p450 genes, which are involved with detoxifying chemicals inside insects.

"[I]f we know about those genes from one insect to another, we can use that information to actually kill the insects," he said. "Or if you take beneficial insects like honey bees, which do not have as many detoxifying genes and are more susceptible to chemicals, that kind of information could be used to help protect bees."

In essence, i5k would create a central repository for sequencing work directed at the insect world. Recent efforts not affiliated with i5k that have resulted in the sequencing of various insects include those that targeted mountain pine beetles, leaf-cutter ants, bed bugs, and West Nile-transmitting mosquitoes.

So far, 102 species have been nominated to be sequenced as part of i5k — 93 hexapoda including the Brown marmorated stink bug, the American cockroach, and the Big-headed ant; four chelicerata, such as the Southern cattle tick and the Harvestman; and five crustacea including the water louse, and the gribble, organizers said on the project's wiki page.

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