SFA researches destructive bug

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - These SFA biotech graduate students want to find a way to stop 'Sunn pests' from destroying millions of acres of wheat crops.

"Which is a primary economic factor over in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Germany, Europe," said Dr Bea Clack, associate professor in the SFA Department of Biology and Biotechnology.

Vials of the very dead Sunn pest are in the SFA lab, but they originated in Syria.

"It took a year for us to get these," said Clack while holding a vial of the bugs which are individually about the size of a very large tick.

Dr clack says political unrest in Syria is adding complication to the scientific formula. Sfa's collaboration with a Syrian scientist now takes place in Morocco where he moved for safety.

"So hopefully they're all safe and sound, but he had to depend on his lab which is left back in Syria to harvest these bugs," explained Clack.

Graduate student Swarnali Basak is cloning the potent enzyme secreted by the bug. The enzyme degrades gluten proteins, the glue that holds your bread together.

"So I have a lot of cloning," said Basak. Her work means SFA doesn't really need an ongoing supply of the bug.

It's allowing graduate student Jeffrey Hargrove to identify a milk protein inhibitor that would shut down the dangerous enzyme.

"Basically if you were to feed the bug some of my milk by products they would not be able to digest the gluten," said Hargrove when asked to explain it in the very simplest terms. @

What is learned from the gluten loving bug may create some relief for celiac disease sufferers and their severe reactions to wheat proteins. The Sunn pest may redeem itself.

"Exactly," said Clack. "Where there is the really bad destruction of these crops we've got a really good thing in that we could hopefully find a way to combat celiac's disease, or at least for management."

The SFA research is funded by U.S. Aid, through the international agricultural organization, ICARDA. This is the third time SFA has received the research funding for the project.

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