Project and researcher highlights are listed by date, along with other relevant announcements from the MPB and associated community. Return to this page frequently for updates! To bring a notable event to our attention, please contact us.


Mountain pine beetle genome decoded (03-2013, Media Release)

The genome of the mountain pine beetle – the insect that has devastated B.C.’s lodgepole pine forests – has been decoded by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.

This is a first for the mountain pine beetle and only the second beetle genome ever sequenced. The first was the red flour beetle, a pest of stored grains. The genome is described in a study published March 27, 2013 in the journal Genome Biology.
“We know a lot about what the beetles do.” says Christopher Keeling, a research associate in Prof. Joerg Bohlmann’s lab at the Michael Smith Laboratories. “But without the genome, we don’t know exactly how they do it.”
“Sequencing the mountain pine beetle genome provides new information that can be used to help manage the epidemic in the future.”
The genome revealed large variation among individuals of the species – about four times greater than the variation among humans.
“As the beetles’ range expands and as they head into jack pine forests where the defensive compounds may be different, this variation could allow them to be more successful in new environments,” says Keeling.
Researchers isolated genes that help detoxify defence compounds found under the bark of the tree – where the beetles live. They also found genes that degrade plant cell walls, which allow the beetles to get nutrients from the tree.

Keeling, Bohlmann and their colleagues also uncovered a bacterial gene that has jumped into the mountain pine beetle genome. This gene codes for an enzyme that digests sugars.
“It might be used to digest woody tissue and/or the microorganisms that grow in the beetle’s tunnels underneath the bark of the tree,” said Keeling. “Gene transfers sometimes make organisms more successful in their environments.”
This study involved researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Alberta.


Characteristics of the mountain pine beetle genome
  • 12 pairs of chromosomes
  • Approximately 13,000 genes
  • The mountain pine beetle separated from the red flour beetle – the only other beetle genome sequenced to date – about 230,000 million years ago. According to Keeling, “the two insects have about the same relatedness as a pine tree and a head of lettuce.”
  • The mountain pine beetle is closely related to other significant pests in North American forests such as the southern pine beetle, Douglas-fir beetle, eastern larch beetle, and spruce beetle. Insights gained from sequencing the mountain pine beetle genome can be transferred to these beetles, and other forest insect pests around the world.
Mountain pine beetle epidemic
The mountain pine beetle has infested over 18 million hectares of lodgepole pine in British Columbia – an area more than five times larger than Vancouver Island – causing enormous damage to the environment and forest industry. In recent years, the insect has moved further north and east, over the Canadian Rockies, and is now approaching the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. It is also beginning to infest other pine trees – jack pine, a jack-lodgepole hybrid, limber pine, and the endangered whitebark pine. Jack pine boreal forests extend from Alberta to the Atlantic provinces. The mountain pine beetle also lives in Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and South Dakota.
Genome Biology Publication: Keeling et al. 2013
Database submissions: Keeling,C.I., Yuen,M., Liao,N.Y., Docking,R.T., Chan,S.K., Taylor,G.A., Palmquist,D.L., Jackman,S.D., Nguyen,A., Li,M., Henderson,H., Janes,J.K., Zhao,Y., Pandoh,P., Moore,R., Sperling,F.A.H., Huber,D.P.W., Birol,I., Jones,S.J.M., Bohlmann,J. Title: Draft genome of the mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins, a major forest pest. Accession: Male – APGK01000000; Female – APGL00000000.
Tria Mountain Pine Beetle Project Seminar Series (10-2012)Members of The Tria Project gave a series of electronic lectures as part of the Canadian Institute of Forestry’s (CIF) National Electronic Lecture Series – The Forest on Your Desktop. Click here to access the Tria/CIF eLecture series poster. These electures occured in October 2012, and the presentations and their audio recordings are provided on the Tria/CIF eLecture Series page. Questions on eLecture content are welcome and can be directed to the individual presenters whose details are found on the Tria Research Team page, or to the project in general through the contact us page.

Please visit the CIF website at http://cif-ifc.org/site/electure for details and registration information on upcoming lecture series. Attendance is free, however advance registration is required and can be done by contacting CIF directly as indicated on their website.


Mountain pine beetle set to march east to Maritimes (04-2011, Media Release)
A University of Alberta-led research team has determined that the mountain pine beetle has invaded jack pine forests in Alberta, opening up the possibility for an infestation stretching east across the Prairies all the way to the Atlantic.

A group of U of A tree biologists and geneticists discovered that as the mountain pine beetle spread eastward from central British Columbia it successfully jumped species from its main host, the lodgepole pine, to the jack pine.

U of A molecular ecologist Catherine Cullingham says that before the beetle adapted to the jack pine its first move was to a hybrid species, a cross between lodgepole and jack pine.

“Tracking the pine beetles progression and telling jack pine from the hybrid species took a lot of work, “said Cullingham. “It was tricky, but our research team used molecular markers to conclusively show that the latest pine species to be attacked is indeed jack pine.”

Research team member Janice Cooke says confirmation of the pine beetles’ jump to another species is a real concern. “Jack pine is the dominant pine species in Canada’s boreal forest,” said Cooke. “Its range extends east from Alberta all the way to the Maritime provinces.“

U of A researchers teamed up with Alberta Sustainable Resources Development and the Canadian Forest Service to track the progress of the mountain pine beetle infestation across the province. The insects have been found in jack pines as far east in Alberta as Slave Lake, which is 200 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Mountain pine beetles are about the size of a grain of rice. The hard-shelled insects spread by flying and with the aid of wind currents. Researchers currently have no estimate for the speed at which the insect might continue to spread eastward.

“Discovering that mountain pine beetle has spread into jack pine is an important finding,” said Cooke. “Being able to provide forest managers and decision makers with this information in real time has been vital in the ongoing battle against this devastating forest pest.”

Molecular Ecology publication: Cullingham et al. 2011

Database submissions: Cullingham, C.I., Cooke, J.E.K., Dang, S., Davis, C.S., Cooke, B.J., Coltman, D.W. Title: Mountain pine beetle host-range expansion threatens the boreal forest. Data: Microsatellite profiles for lodgepole pine and jack pine collected in BC, AB, SK, ON and MN used to develop a method of reliably identifying pure species and their hybrids.

Unlocking the secrets of the Grosmannia clavigera genome (01-2011)

The blue-stain fungus, Grosmannia clavigera, plays an integral role in successful infestation of pine trees by the mountain pine beetle. Transported by the beetle from tree to tree, the fungal associate helps to weaken the trees’ innate defences, assisting in the colonization process and eventual death of the pine trees. While the pine trees respond to these attacks with a myriad of toxic chemical compounds, research into the fungal genome by Tria Project scientists has identified genes which help the fungus bypass these defences and allow the fungus to use some of the compounds as a food source. We invite you to view these recently published findings for more information.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Publication: DiGuistini et al. 2011. PNAS.

Commentaries: Science and Scientific American

Database submissions: Diguistini,S., Wang,Y., Liao,N.Y., Taylor,G., Tanguay,P., Feau,N., Henrissat,B., Chan,S.K., Hesse-Orce,U., Alamouti,S.M., Tsui,C.K., Docking,R.T., Levasseur,A., Haridas,S., Robertson,G., Birol,I., Holt,R.A., Marra,M.A., Hamelin,R.C., Hirst,M., Jones,S.J., Bohlmann,J. and Breuil,C. Title: Genome and transcriptome analyses of the mountain pine beetle-fungal symbiont Grosmannia clavigera, a lodgepole pine pathogen. Accession: ACXQ00000000

Tria next generation sequence resources available for Pine Trees and Mountain Pine Beetle (01-2011)

The Tria Project has continued to advance genomics knowledge of the mountain pine beetle system through the addition of new sequence resources. Next generation sequence information for lodgepole and jack pine trees (Roche 454), and the mountain pine beetle (Illumina Genome Analyzer) is now available for download through the Sequence Read archive (SRA). Sequencing was conducted at the McGill University Genome Quebec Innovation Centre.

Pine trees: Accession numbers SRX031614 (Pinus banksiana, jack pine) and SRX031615 (Pinus contorta, lodgepole pine)

Description: Develop genomic resources for jack pine and lodgepole pine to identify (1) expressed genes for these species, and (2) SNPs that can be used to assess natural populations for possible signatures of selection, with an emphasis on genes associated with responses to herbivory and water deficit.

Dendroctonus ponderosae (MPB): Accession numbers SRX031095, SRX031641-SRX031643 and SRX035174-SRX035177

Description: Whole-genome sequencing of Dendroctonus ponderosae using the Illumina Genome Analyzer.

Genomics on the Hill (11-2010)

The Tria Project was pleased to join in celebrating ten years of successful Genome Canada funded research and to share in an evening of genomics progress with Members of Parliament, Senators, government officials and stakeholders. We invite you to view the project display from the event, and additional pictures can be found on the Genome Canada website.


Tria EST resources available for Mountain Pine Beetle and Pine Trees (06-2010)

A large part of the Genome BC and Genome Alberta-funded foundational work for the Tria Project was the development of genomic resources for the interacting bark beetles, fungi and pine trees of the mountain pine beetle system, to probe the genomic mechanisms that control interactions between the organisms. The development of the following resources will provide a foundation for physiological and population genomics research continued under the Genome Canada-funded project.

We have been able to already sequence the Grosmannia clavigera genome (see 2009-09 listing below) and generate significant numbers of ESTs for MPB (175,103 ESTs), G. clavigera (44,282 ESTs) , lodgepole pine (41,132 ESTs) and jack pine trees (36,333 ESTs). We invite you to access these resources through NCBI Genbank:

Dendroctonus ponderosae (MPB): Accession numbers GT316901-GT492003

Title: Expressed sequence tags from the mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae. Keeling, C.I., Li, M., Henderson, H., Huber, D.P.W., Clark, E.L., Fraser, J.D., Ott, D.S., Liao, N., Docking, R., Chan, S., Taylor, G., Moore, R., Munro, S., Mayo, M., Jefferson, K., Lee, H.W., Leung, A., Thorne, K., Trinh, E., Matsuo, C., Chand, S., Brown-John, M., McMurtrie, H., Cruz, K., Smith, J., Holt, R., Jones, S., Marra, M., Cooke, J.E.K., Bohlmann, J.

Grosmannia clavigera: Accession numbers GT571598-GT615878

Title: Expressed sequence tags from the blue-stain fungus Grosmannia clavigera, a mountain pine beetle-associated pathogen. Keeling,C.I., DiGuistini,S., Li,M., Henderson,H., Liao,N., Docking,R., Chan,S., Taylor,G., Moore,R., Munro,S., Mayo,M., Jefferson,K., Lee,H.W., Leung,A., Thorne,K., Trinh,E., Matsuo,C., Chand,S., Brown-John,M., McMurtrie,H., Cruz,K., Smith,J., Holt,R., Jones,S., Marra,M., Cooke,J.E.K., Bohlmann,J., Breuil,C.

Pinus contorta (lodegpole pine): Accession numbers GT229582-GT270713

Title: Expressed sequence tags from the lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta. Keeling,C.I., Henderson,H., Li,M., Liao,N., Docking,R., Chan,S., Taylor,G., Moore,R., Munro,S., Mayo,M., Jefferson,K., Lee,H.W., Leung,A., Thorne,K., Trinh,E., Matsuo,C., Chand,S., Brown-John,M., McMurtrie,H., Cruz,K., Smith,J., Holt,R., Jones,S., Marra,M., Cooke,J.E.K., Bohlmann,J.

Pinus banksiana (jack pine): Accessions GW738148-GW774480

Title: Expressed sequence tags from the jack pine, Pinus banksiana. Keeling,C.I., Arango,A., Li,M., Henderson,H., Bryman,M., Liao,N., Docking,R., Chan,S., Taylor,G., Moore,R., Munro,S., Mayo,M., Jefferson,K., Lee,H.W., Leung,A., Thorne,K., Trinh,E., Matsuo,C., Chand,S., Brown-John,M., McMurtrie,H., Cruz,K., MacLeod,N., Holt,R., Jones,S., Marra,M., Bohlmann,J., Cooke,J.E.K.

Genome sequence of blue-stain fungal associate published (09-2009)

Pine forests in Western Canada and US are being damaged on a large scale by a mountain pine beetle (MPB) fungal symbiotic-association that kills trees. Despite the seriousness of the epidemic, little information is available at the individual and population molecular and mechanistic levels of this interacting biological system.

Researchers at the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre and UBC have resolved one piece of the MPB puzzle with funding from Genome BC, NSERC, the BC Ministry of Forests, the Natural Resources Canada Genomics Program, and the BC Cancer Foundation. Using a mixture of classical and new sequencing technologies, and advanced assembly software, they sequenced the genome of the filamentous fungus Grosmannia clavigera. G. clavigera is an MPB symbiont and an important pine pathogen in the epidemic. The genome sequence is the foundation for work to understand how G. clavigera can bypass the terpenoid and phenolic host tree defense metabolites.

Genome Biology publication: Diguistini et al. 2009. Genome Biology

CommentariesNature news and Science Daily

Database submissions: DiGuistini, S., Liao, N.Y., Platt, D., Robertson, G., Seidel, M., Chan, S.K., Docking, R., Birol, I., Holt, R.A., Hirst, M., Mardis, E., Marra, M.A., Hamelin, R.C., Bohlmann, J., Breuil, C. and Jones, S.J.M.: Title: The Grosmannia clavigera genome project. PID: 39847, Submitted and available in NCBI GenBank. Assemblies: De novo genome sequence assembly of a filamentous fungus using Sanger, 454, and Illumina sequence data; Accession ACXQ00000000 and ACYC00000000 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/. Trace Archive/Sanger PE Fosmid reads: De novo genome sequence assembly of a filamentous fungus using Sanger, 454, and Illumina sequence data Accession: 2238353787 to 2243356701at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Traces/. SRA (Short Read Archive) / 454 data: Grosmannia clavigera whole genome sequencing project Accessions: SRR023517 to SRR023533 and SRR023307 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/. SRA (Short Read Archive) / Illumina data: De novo genome sequence assembly of a filamentous fungus using Sanger, 454, and Illumina sequence data . Accession: SRR018008 to SRR018012 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/


Canadian Forest Health Genomics strategy paper released, co-authored by Tria researchers (07-2009)

Building on the large-scale, multidisciplinary foundation in mountain pine beetle research established through the BC-Alberta collaboration of Tria, Project Co-investigators were invited to participate in a Canadian Forest Health Genomics Initiative workshop in Toronto, ON, in March 2009. Academic, provincial and federal scientists, policy- and decision-makers, industry and community groups gathered from across the country to explore the national issue of native and invasive species and determine Canada’s capacity for employing genomics in mitigation strategies to address forest health threats. From Workshop deliberations, it is clear that substantial research capacity and expertise does exist within Canada and between the provinces to engage genomics in developing mitigation strategies for current and future threats to the health of the nation’s forests. This activity resulted in the publication in July 2009 of the “Canadian Forest Health Genomics Strategy Paper – Canadian Strengths Address Forestry Challenges”. A Workshop Summary and full proceedings can be found here.


Mountain pine beetle system research : NEW FUNDING AWARDED! (06-2009)

We are pleased that our application for Genome Canada funding of mountain pine beetle system research was recently approved! The application submitted by our Co-investigator team was one of only 12 projects selected for funding, securing $7.8M for three years of continued research to inform economic models aiming to assess the use of pine as bioenery feedstock in areas at risk for mountain pine beetle outbreak. More information on competition results can be found here on the Genome Canada website. As well as principal funding from Genome Canada, the research will be co-funded by Genome BC, Genome Alberta, the University of Alberta, and the DOE Joint Genome Institute. Check the Employment and Training page for opportunities associated with our upcoming research.


International Scientific Workshop (09-2008)

In September of 2008, the Tria Project held its inaugural, invitation-only International Scientific Workshop in Vancouver, BC. The purpose of the workshop was to present and discuss research on the mountain pine beetle as is ongoing in the Tria Project and in related work by the international community. Please contact us if you would like to be included on the mailing list for our next meeting, currently planned for November 2009.




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