There's an "alarming resurgence in the population of bedbugs" in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The exact cause is not known, but the CDC says it could be linked to "increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence, and the continuing decline or elimination of effective vector/pest control programs at state and local public health agencies."
The Los Angeles Times warned in a Dec. 4 headline: L. A.'s Slow Trickle of Bedbugs May Turn Into a Flood.
That's a big "bah-humbug" for the holidays.
Senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, was quoted as saying:
Remember the exciting news article published in November of 2009 in Science Daily about how an orchid species on the Chinese island of Hainan "fools its hornet pollinator by issuing a chemical that honey bees use to send an alarm?"
The research was first published in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.
"The discovery explains why the hornets, which capture honey bees to serve as food for their larvae, have been observed to literally pounce on the rewardless Dendrobium sinense flowers," the Science Daily author wrote.
Can you imagine? Hornets "detect" one of their favorite foods--honey bees--and they pounce on the flower and come up empty-handed or "empty-mouthed?"
The orchids produce a deceptive chemical, a compound called Z-11-eicosen-1-ol, described as "a rarity even in the insect world."
One of the researchers involved in this study--and hundreds of other insect communication studies--is world-renowned chemical ecologist Wittko Francke (top photo) of the University of Hamburg, Germany.
And now he's coming to the University of California, Davis, to present a seminar.
Francke will speak on "Insect Semiochemicals: Structural Principles and Evolution" at a UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday, Dec. 8 from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive. He'll be introduced by host and fellow chemical ecologist Steve Seybold of the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Davis, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology."Professor Francke has been a driving force in the field of chemical ecology for the last four decades, discovering countless new natural product chemicals of behavioral significance for animals and helping us to understand how plants and animals interact," said Seybold (left).
"Nearly everyone in the field has collaborated with him at some level; he has been a consummate mentor to younger chemical ecologists and has always been generous with his time, intellect, and chemical skills to everyone in that community," Seybold said. "He is remarkably brilliant in that he sees patterns in the make-up and synthesis of bio-organic compounds that most biologists, and even many chemists, may overlook."
Martha Stewart apparently does.
And the folks at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, couldn't be happier.
See, the editors of Martha Stewart Living listed the Bohart insect collection kit as one of the top three gifts for the young naturalist.
How cool is that! Or, how buggy is that!
The Martha Stewart folks wrote on their website: “Here is a handful of gifts for the pint-size wildlife expert. If your child loves being outdoors and inspecting all things creepy-crawly, read on to find the perfect present."
They cautioned: "Just be sure to enforce a strict no-centipedes-indoors rule" before they head out with their "eco-cool contraptions!”
Museum director Lynn Kimsey (top), professor and former interim chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, has long known how fascinating bugs are--and now Martha apparently agrees.
Fact is, the Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, is home to more than seven million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks); and a gift shop.
The gift shop is like an entomological candy shop. There you can buy bug-related posters, note cards, t-shirts, sweatshirts, jewelry, magnets, scorpion-encased lollipops....and yes...insect collection kits.
So if someone is bugging you about a holiday gift, check out the Bohart, either online or in person. To accommodate families who work during the week, the Bohart has scheduled a special weekend opening on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. The Bohart is traditionally open on weekdays, year around, from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
We stopped at the Bohart Museum this morning and met a future entomologist who--yes--in his childhood owned an insect collection kit. Joel Hernandez, a UC Davis entomology major and a student assistant at the Bohart, acquired his kit at age 7. What first sparked his interest in entomology? An Animal Planet episode featuring the insects of Madagascar.
Hernandez later joined the Loma Vista 4-H Club, Ventura, and enrolled in an entomology project. His display of insects won "best of division" and "best of class" awards in the Ventura County Fair.
Hernandez now has five display cases of insects, including two cases of butterflies, one case of beetles and miscellaneous insects.
His ambition? To become an entomology professor.
Just think--somewhere out there is another "Joel" who will be getting his very own insect collection kit during the holidays--thanks to Martha.
Martha & Friends may now want to see the UC Davis Department of Entomology's video clips on "How to Make an Insect Collection." Professor James R. Carey taught the class last spring to undergraduates and graduate students. Their work can be viewed online.
Peter F. Billingsley (right), senior director of Entomology and Quality Systems at Sanaria Inc., Rockville, Md., will speak on "Development of a Mosquito-Derived, Attenuated Whole Parasite Vaccine against Malaria" on Friday, Dec. 3.
His talk--from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in the UC Davis Genome Center Auditorium, 1005 Genome and Biological Sciences Facility, 451 Health Sciences Drive--is part of the UC Davis Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology Seminar Series, "Emerging Challenges in Microbiology and Immunology." It's also affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology fall seminar series.
Host is Shirley Luckhart, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology, who studies the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. Luckhart's many roles include serving as a graduate student advisor in the Department of Entomology.
Sanaria? It's a self-described "biotechnology company dedicated to the production of a vaccine protective against malaria caused by the pathogen Plasmodium falciparum."
Billingsley has more than 20 years experience in medical entomology and malaria transmission research. He directed research teams at Imperial College, London, and the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, examining diverse aspects of insect biology related to disease transmission, especially midgut and salivary gland biology, and more recently the molecular physiology of aging in mosquitoes.
Billinglsey, who earned his doctorate at Queen’s University in Canada, is a former head (chair) of zoology in the School of Biological Sciences, Aberdeen University.
Since 2006, he has devoted his broad expertise to the unique challenges of developing and deploying a live attenuated Plasmodium falciparum sporozoite vaccine at Sanaria Inc.
Billingsley's talk is generating a lot of interest, as well it should.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), malaria kills more than a million people a year: "In 2008, an estimated 190 - 311 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 708,000 - 1,003,000 people died, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa."
"He is slim and intense, with graying hair and clipped sentences jagged with inflections from his years in Brazil and Japan. And he does not, perhaps cannot, quit."
So wrote freelance journalist Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, formerly with the Sacramento Bee, in her excellent profile of chemical ecologist Walter Leal, published today on the American Association for the Advancement of Science website.
Leal, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, "tries to understand at the molecular level exactly what an insect is smelling, and how it relies on scent to interact with the world," she wrote.
Her article included a great quote from Leal's colleague, John Hildebrand, a neurobiology professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
“He’s one of the most dynamic people in the field. He’s a remarkably energetic and passionate person about his work … and notorious almost for the rapid fire way he speaks. He loves to joke that he can say twice as much in a lecture as anyone else because he only says half of each word.”
It was the Leal lab that discovered the secret mode of DEET. The groundbreaking research proved that “DEET doesn’t mask the smell of the host or jam the insect’s senses," Leal said in a UC Davis Department of Entomology news story. "Mosquitoes don’t like it because it smells bad to them.”
DEET’s mode of action or how it works puzzled scientists for more than 50 years. The chemical insect repellent, developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and patented by the U.S. Army in 1946, is considered the "gold standard" of insect repellents worldwide. Worldwide, more than 200 million use DEET to ward off vectorborne diseases.
Scientists long surmised, incorrectly, that DEET masks the smell of the host, or jams or corrupts the insect’s senses, interfering with its ability to locate a host. Mosquitoes and other blood-feeding insects find their hosts by body heat, skin odors, carbon dioxide (breath), or visual stimuli. Females need a blood meal to develop their eggs.
In her article, Peyton Dahlberg said Leal is trying to find something better than DEET.
Wrote Peyton Dahlberg: "DEET is a flawed tool, a chemical that needs to be used at high doses, can affect human biology, and isn’t recommended for very young infants, according to Leal and others who have studied it. The point is finding something better than DEET, something more targeted to the most problematic insects and less dangerous for everything else, including people."
Leal told her that that to search for safer alternatives to DEET and other insecticides, researchers need to better understand the mechanisms of scent detection and chemical communication.
Leal indeed has a "nose for insects' sense of smell," as the AAAS headline pointed out.