Lab News

October, 2020:

McKenna Lab contributes to a major paper on crickets, katydids, & grasshoppers in Nature Communications.

Sound-making and hearing mechanisms appeared surprisingly early in the evolution of the insect order Orthoptera (katydids, crickets, grasshoppers, and relatives), according to research published by an international team of researchers. The team included Dr. Duane McKenna and Dr. Seunggwan Shin. They worked closely with colleagues worldwide, including Dr. Hojun Song at Texas A&M University, a specialist on Orthoptera, who led the project. According to Dr. McKenna “This work involved one of the largest analyses of DNA data ever undertaken for a group of insects, and is notable for having illuminated the ancient origins of singing and hearing, and the otherwise remarkable evolutionary history of the charismatic insect order Orthoptera.”


Their paper “Phylogenomic analysis sheds light on the evolutionary pathways towards acoustic communication in Orthoptera” showed that certain Orthoptera have been communicating to find mates, avoid predators, and navigate, for more than 300 million years—since well before the first dinosaurs.

Drs. McKenna and Shin will continue to collaborate with Dr. Song through a recently awarded 5-year NSF grant seeking to further characterize the evolution of hearing and singing in this ecologically and economically significant group of insects.

Published paper:


January, 2020:

McKenna Lab contributes to a major paper on arthropod genomes in Genome Biology.

The evolutionary innovations of arthropods – the most diverse group of animals on Earth – are as numerous as they are fascinating, from fangs, silk and stingers to exquisitely colored wings and ingenious feats of engineering. Some arthropods contribute vital ecosystem services, including pollination and decomposition, while others are pests of agriculture or spread diseases.


An international team of scientists, including researchers from the McKenna Lab, report the results from a project designed to kickstart the sequencing of genomes from thousands of arthropod species (the Insect 5,000 Genomes Project; i5k). The gene families found to be most dynamically changing in arthropod genomes encode proteins linked to digestion, chemical defence and the building and remodelling of chitin - the major constituent of the arthropod exoskeleton. Newly evolved gene families underlie functions known to be important in different arthropod groups, including visual learning and behavior, pheromone and odorant detection, neuronal activity and wing development.

UM press release:

Published paper:

November, 2019:

Major paper on Beetle Genomics & Evolution Published in PNAS

The McKenna Lab published a paper in PNAS, titled: “The Evolution and Genomic Basis of Beetle Diversity”. The paper details how ancient horizontal transfers of microbial genes to beetle genomes set the stage for beetle diversification. The study was funded in part by NSF. UM co-authors included postdocs Seunggwan Shin & Dave Clarke, graduate student Cristian Beza, and undergraduate Peyton Murin.

UM press release:

Published paper:

Select news stories: (begins at 31:15)

November, 2019:

CBio announces Biodiversity Scholars Award Program for incoming PhD students

See here for more information.

November 2019:

The McKenna Lab attended the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in St. Louis, MO (Nov. 17-20). Seven presentations were given on topics ranging from beetle genomics and evolution, to aphid-plant interactions and the impacts of climate change and habitat loss on tropical forest beetle diversity.

October, 2019:

Cristian Beza successfully completed his PhD dissertation defense. Dissertation title: Island Biogeography in the continental New World Tropics: Reconstructing the phylogeny & evolution of the Mesoamerican Bess Beetle tribe Proculini (Coleoptera: Passalidae).

September, 2019:

Dr. Duane McKenna, Professor of Biological Sciences and CBio Director, attended the 9th Insect Phylogeny Meeting in Dresden, Germany.


Photo: Duane McKenna & collaborator Na Ra Shin (Max Planck Inst. for Chemical Ecology; Jena, Germany).

September, 2019:

Dr. Stephanie Haddad, Research Assistant Professor, has joined the Department of Biological Sciences. Dr. Haddad will contribute to research development for the McKenna Lab and CBio.

April, 2019:

The McKenna Lab attends the ASB Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists was held at the Memphis Cook Convention Center from April 3-6, 2019. The meeting was attended by 6 CBio faculty members as well as graduate students and postdocs. Collectively, 8 presentations/posters were presented.