All Eyes Are on These Beetles - Y Magazine
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Out of the Blue

All Eyes Are on These Beetles

Emerald ash borers and other wood-borer beetles
Photo by Mark Philbrick

Emerald ash borers (pictured here with other wood borers) are eating their way across America. These iridescent jewel beetles are responsible for the death of more than 50 million U.S. ash trees, but researchers at BYU are hoping to slow their destruction. The key? It just might be in their eyes.

Studying what the beetles could see, assistant biology professor Seth M. Bybee (BA ’04), biochemistry professor Barry M. Willardson (BA ’84), and postdoc Nathan P. Lord were surprised to discover what the bugs couldn’t see: the color blue. But in recently published research, they note that these beetles have created a work-around, likely evolving extra copies of their UV genes, modified to see blue light.

So how does their finding help with the problem? The emerald ash borer relies on color vision to find mates and trees to live in. If scientists can shut down their blue-sensitive genes, the beetles would be unable to find a home or a mate.

Photography by Mark A. Philbrick (BA ’75, MEd ’78)