Dr. Susan J. Brown, ESA Fellow (2011)

Dr. Susan J. Brown, professor of biology at Kansas State University, is known internationally for her efforts to establish Tribolium castaneum, the red flour beetle, as a model organism for genetic studies of insect development. She received a B.A. in biology from Smith College and a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Missouri - Columbia.

She began studying homeotic genes in Tribolium to understand how they might control morphological diversity in insects. Before Brown began her studies, Tribolium had enjoyed a long history of use as a model organism for population genetic and ecology studies. Although several homeotic mutants existed, they had not been analyzed in great detail. Her work on homeotic genes demonstrated the power of genetic and molecular analysis in a non-drosophilid insect and contributed to our understanding of how Hox genes function in insects to repress anterior fates while also directing segment- and species-specific characteristics. To understand how short-germ insects produce segments sequentially during embryogenesis, Brown also studies segmentation genes in Tribolium.

Her research group has described a novel regulatory circuit of pair-rule gene interactions that defines segments reiteratively. Further studies determined how the output of this circuit regulates segment-polarity genes to produce segments sequentially.

Brown’s current studies focus on the role of Wnt signaling in A-P axis patterning and regulation of the pair-rule gene circuit. Brown has contributed to the development of many genetic and genomic tools that have established Tribolium as a genetic model organism. These include molecular recombination maps, DNA libraries and other molecular resources, RNAi, and the use of transposons in genome-wide insertional mutagenesis.

Brown played a lead role in the international consortium that sequenced and analyzed the genome of Tribolium, providing the first look at a beetle genome. She is director of the Arthropod Genomic Center, which hosts an annual symposium highlighting recent advancements in this field. She is also director of the K-State Bioinformatics Center, and she serves on the editorial board of BMC Genomics. These centers host Agripestbase, which is being developed to provide community access to genomic information for pest insects, including the Hessian fly (Mayetiola destructor) and the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), as well as Tribolium. Brown pioneered the first concurrent B.S./M.S. degree at K-State, where she teaches classes in genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics.

(updated July, 2011)