The identification of laccase-2 as the catalyst for cuticle tanning opens up possibilities of targeting this protein as a way of weakening the beetle's physical defenses against mechanical, chemical and biological injuries, Muthukrishnan said. Better insecticides could be developed as a result of having a more insect-specific target like laccase-2, Kramer said.
"Gaining knowledge about a molecular process required for insect development, but absent from humans and other vertebrate animals, such as cuticle tanning, may be useful for developing new, bio-rational methods for controlling pest insect populations," Kanost said.
Armed with this new information, a number of practical applications are possible. Materials based on the chemistry of the insect exoskeleton could be developed to make lightweight materials for aircraft and military armor, Kramer said.
"I sometimes speculate that we might help K-State coach Bill Snyder develop better football helmets and shoulder pads for his players," he said.
Collaborative research with scientists at the University of Kansas is in the beginning stages to analyze quantitatively the mechanical properties of insect cuticles and to perform cuticle protein cross-linking experiments that are catalyzed by insect laccase, Kramer said. KU scientists will test the strength of the synthetic cross-linked biopolymers that are created. This could be used for the development of strong, lightweight materials.
Both Beeman and Kramer also work at the Grain Marketing and Production Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, in Manhattan.