- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
West, majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, works in the Chiu lab on the Spotted Wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii or SWD), a serious pest of fruit crops. In collaboration with scientists in the U.S. and around the world, including Frank Zalom, UC Davis professor of entomology, West is surveying populations of SWD using next-generation sequencing to determine the extent of possible insecticide resistance.
“By correlating her results to insecticide bioassay data, she can start to understand the mechanisms of developing resistance and use this information to help the agricultural industries manage SWD in a more sustainable manner,” said Chiu, an assistant professor.
A multidisciplinary committee of faculty and staff from the UC Davis World Food Center and the Undergraduate Research Center selected the recipients. The award winners received a $2500 stipend to support their research related to food security, health and sustainability. The UC Global Food Initiative “is a commitment to apply a laser focus on what UC can do as a public research university, in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world, to take on one of the world's most pressing issues," said UC President Janet Napolitano.
West began working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Chiu lab in August 2013.
She was one of eight students among a pool of 50 selected to be a member of the Class of 2013, Research Scholars in insect Biology Program (RSIBP). The program was organized by UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members Jay Rosenheim, Louie Yang and Chiu to provide undergraduates with a closely-mentored research experience in biology. The program's goal is to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research and useful for students whose career goals will take them to medical school, veterinary school, or graduate programs in any biological sub-discipline.
Undergraduates can easily feel like they are lost in the crowd, and rarely get close mentorship from faculty or other research staff. Chiu noted. The RSIBP program fills that bill. “It is highly competitive and being selected is not an easy feat in itself,” she said.
West is also a member of the Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program and received the outstanding BUSP Freshman Award in the spring of 2013.
West grew up in the city of Shasta Lake and graduated as valedictorian of the Class of 2012, Central Valley High School. A first-generation college student, West has received a number of scholarships at UC Davis, including the Susie Voorhies Memorial Scholarship (2012-13), Provost's Undergraduate Fellowship (May 2014) and the Regents Scholarship (May 2014). She expects to graduate from UC Davis in 2016 and pursue a career in research.
In addition to studying animal circadian rhythms, the Chiu lab collaborates with the Zalom lab and with research groups at Oregon State University, Washington State University, North Carolina State University, University of Georgia, and Cornell University to develop pest management strategies to combat SWD. Most drosophila flies feed on spoiled fruits, but SWD prefers fresh fruit (berries and soft-skinned fruits). The national crop loss has been estimated at more than $700 million annually.
“As a result, to control pest population and reduce crop loss, growers now rely on preventive applications of broad-spectrum neuroactive insecticides,” Chiu explained. “The selection pressure for insecticide resistance is therefore extremely high and will likely lead to resistance development in SWD, which threatens the sustainability of these high value crops.”
“Our laboratory has already set up a large network of collaborators all over the world to support this project,” Chiu said. “Jessica regards this project as an opportunity to explore new research areas, while contributing to an urgent food crisis as the crop industries and growers all over the world are becoming gravely concerned. “
Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology
President's Global Food Initiative
Recipients of UC Global Food Initiative Awards
Spotted Wing Drosophila Project, based at Oregon State University