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A mountain pine beetle is shown in a handout photo. Alberta researchers say the destructive mountain pine beetle has infested a different type of tree that could allow the bugs to spread eastward across Canada.KLAUS BOLTE/The Canadian Press

Gnawing pests that are devastating Canada's forests and agriculture may not have an appetite for destruction for long, because of a recent scientific breakthrough.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre have decoded the genome of the mountain pine beetle, which will allow for a first look into how the beetles can cause so much devastation, and why.

Because mountain pine beetles live under a tree's bark, the bugs can't be sprayed, and keeping the insect's hunger at bay is difficult.

Christopher Keeling, research associate at the genome centre, said decoding the beetle's genome will allow scientists to uncover some of the pine beetle's secrets – such as how it can survive the bitter cold.

He said the information can also be used to help manage the epidemic in the future.

The breakthrough opens up research for not only pine beetles, but also all beetles and weevils.

The mountain pine beetle alone has caused massive destruction to more than 18 million hectares of lodgepole pine in B.C. – an area more than five times larger than Vancouver Island.

Dr. Keeling said the pesky pine beetle problem is becoming more of an issue in Alberta and is now moving toward Saskatchewan.

"Pretty much everywhere in Canada there's an dendroctonus [bark] beetle that's affecting the pine or spruce or other conifer trees," he said.

The research – which was published this week in the journal Genome Biology – revealed a large variation among beetles in the species that is almost four times greater than that of humans.

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