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Cross kingdom conflicts on a beetle's back
Date:10/3/2008

BOSTON, Mass. (Oct. 2, 2008)Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Madison-Wisconsin have discovered how beetles and bacteria form a symbiotic and mutualistic relationshipone that ultimately results in the destruction of pine forests. In addition, they've identified the specific molecule that drives this whole phenomenon.

The context of this discovery can easily be imagined as a story arc that includes some of the most unlikely characters and props.

Setting: The interior of a pine tree.

Enter the protagonist: The pine beetle, boring its way through the bark, a five millimeter arthropod ready to go into labor and lay a few hundred eggs. Tucked in a specialized storage compartment in its shell, the beetle has a ready supply of spores for Entomocorticium, a nourishing fungal baby food for the beetle's gestating larvae.

Enter the antagonist: The mite, a microscopic interloper that secretly hitched a ride on the beetle.

Conflict: Unbeknownst to mother pine beetle, the mite has snuck in a supply of Ophiostoma minus, a pathogenic fungi that can wipe out the entire supply of fungal larvae food. The mite releases this toxin.

Climax: Will the baby beetles die of starvation?

Resolution: Catching the mite off guardas well as the scientists conducting the study!the mother beetle is ready with actinomycetes, a bacteria that neutralizes the toxic fungi by means of a tiny fatty acid.

Conclusion: While actinomycetes rescues the baby beetles from certain starvation, the larvae-friendly Entomocorticium softens up the pine, allowing the fledgling beetles to eat not only the fungi but the tree itself. Soon, the young beetles leave to begin their new lives. Mother beetle gathers up the remaining supply of Entomocorticium and heads for another tree. The beetles live, and the infernal mite is thwarted.

Surprise ending: The camera pans back, and we quickly realize tha
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Contact: David Cameron
david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0441
Harvard Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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