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Blow Fly Population Genetics and Genomics


The lab has spent a significant effort in trying to understand the correlations between insect genomes and their associated phenotypes, with a particular interest in understanding the variation present in insect phenotypes. These have some forensic applications, especially forensic entomology, as these abundant insects are at the mercy of natural phenotypic variation in their development rates.


As such, the lab has generated genomes of Cochliomyia macellaria under selection experiments for development rate, and is extracting genotypes linked to this phenotype. This will have wide-ranging applications to increase accuracy in minimum postmortem interval estimations. Furthermore, understanding genetic variation across the landscape (population genetics) will give us a more thorough view of blow fly population dynamics and the ability to estimate abundances in different environments, and the potential for the prediction of variation rates of development.

The lab currently has MPS data (including short and long read technologies) for the following species: Cochliomyia macellaria, Phormia regina, Chrysomya rufifacies, Lucilia cuprina and Lucilia sericata.



  • National Institute of Justice 2013-DN-BX-K019: Species and age determination of blow fly pupae based upon headspace analysis. 2014-2016 (PI: John Goodpaster, IUPUI)
  • National Institute of Justice 2012-DN-BX-K024: Genomic tools to reduce error in PMI estimates derived from entomological evidence. 2013-2015. (PI: Aaron Tarone, Texas A&M University)

Blow Flies as Remote Sensors


Imagine a single blow fly, one of countless many, is out there in the environment doing the only thing it knows how to do - send its genetic material to the next generation. This fly in its attempts to complete this task has essentially become a scientist sampling its environment in a way that traditional human scientists would have a very difficult time doing. Contained within this single fly is information about animals that have died, animals that are still living, abundance and diversity of those animals, and information about the chemistry of the environment (such land use practices).

A single fly giving rise to a multitude of data that is capable of painting a picture of the ecosystems' conditions in time and space. Now multiple this information by tens, or hundreds, or thousands of flies carrying this information, and the fly can now monitor any environment for large scale environmental processes. The fly can monitor the environment for the presence of potentially rare animals (conservation areas), or alternatively, invasive animals, how changing climates affect the overall makeup of the animal ecosystem, if wildlife corridors really restore the original conditions, what animals become crucial in a food web system, etc.The fly is able to determine each and every one of these parameters under their natural conditions.


Our lab has been working towards extracting this information from flies in our environments to evaluate the impact of humans and other changes on the entire ecosystem.



  • Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). Blow Flies as Ubiquitous Chemical Sensors. 2019-2020. (Co-PI: Nicholas Manicke, IUPUI)
  • National Geographic Society Explorers Grant. Environmental drones: blow flies as indicators of vertebrate diversity and abundance. 2018-2019. (Co-PIs: Nicholas Manicke, William Gilhooly III, Rudy Banerjee, IUPUI)
  • National Geographic Society: Support for Women and Dependent Care: Travel award to attend International Conference on Conservation Biology. 2019.

Insects as Food and Feed

Insects are the most numerous and diverse animals on Earth, and through millions of years of evolution, they have learned to adapt to anything, literally, anything. Therefore, it is no surprise that insects will eventually save humankind. Insects as food and feed is a new area of research, but one that builds upon the previously and continuing efforts of the lab's research goals. Understanding the correlations between genomes and their associated traits and behaviors will propel this growing industry of the mass production of insects as an environmentally sustainable alternative to protein. You might not want to eat insects just yet, but eventually the globe will need this industry to supply the growing demands of increased populations and the climate changes impacting current protein industries.


Our research is focused on developing new genetic and genomic-based techniques to enhance currently production, and to produce new alternatives.


  • S-S Yang, W-M Wu, AM Brandon, H-Q Fan, JP Receveur, Y Li, Z-Y Wang, R Fan, RL McClellan, S-H Gao, D Ning, DH Phillips, B-Y Peng, H Wang, S-Y Cai, P Li, W-M Cai, L-Y Ding, J Yang, J Ren, Y-L Zhang, J Gao, D Xing, N-Q Ren, RM Waymouth, J Zhou, H-C Tao, CJ Picard, ME Benbow, CS Criddle. (2018) Ubiquity of polystyrene digestion and biodegradation within yellow mealworms, larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae). Chemosphere, 212: 262-271. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653518315509
  • JK Tomberlin...CJ Picard, et al. (+ 54 authors). (2015) "Protecting the environment through insect farming as a means to produce protein for use as livestock, poultry, and aquaculture feed". Journal of Insects as Food and Feed 1(4): 307-309. https://www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/abs/10.3920/JIFF2015.0098


  • National Science Foundation IIP-1841482. I/UCRC Planning Grant: Center for Environmental Sustainability through Insects Farming (CEStIns). 2019-2020. (Co-PIs: Andrea Liceaga, Purdue University, Yunlong Liu, IUSM)
  • Beta Hatch Inc./Department of Defense SBIR Phase II Subcontract. Genomics of Beetles. 2019-2021.
  • Beta Hatch Contract.Population genomics of the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor. 2018.

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