- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Leal, a noted authority on insect communication and olfaction, received the award on Monday, April 12 during the branch's 94th annual meeting in Boise, Idaho. Brian Holden of Monte Sereno, Calif., great-grandson of Woodworth and a 1981 graduate of UC Davis in electrical engineering, presented the award.
The award memorializes Woodworth (1865-1940), a trailblazing entomologist who is considered the founder of the UC Berkeley and UC Davis departments of entomology.
“Because of his deep and meaningful body of work over the last 10 years, Dr. Walter S. Leal of UC Davis is a wonderful selection as the 42nd recipient of the C.W. Woodworth Award," said Holden, who is writing a book on his great-grandfather. "His research into the detailed neuronal responses in mosquitoes to DEET and nonanal has been particularly impressive. His research has improved our knowledge of mosquito behavior in the presence of these two compounds, both of which are central in the efforts to understand and control mosquito-borne illness."
Holden and his wife Joann Wilfert sponsor the award along with the entire Woodworth/Holden/Detrich family.
James Carey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, praised Leal “for his stellar work on chemical communication and olfaction of insects of agricultural and medical importance.”
Carey, who chairs the department's awards committee, described Leal as “an innovative and creative researcher, a collaborative scientist, and an outstanding teacher.”
Leal has identified and synthesized complex pheromones from many insects, including scarab beetles, true bugs, longhorn beetles and the citrus leafminer. In one of his major contributions to California agriculture, he identified a complex sex pheromone system from the naval orangeworm, an insect pest that costs California agriculture millions of dollars annually. The sex pheromone compounds he discovered are now being deployed in the agricultural field to disrupt chemical communication and control navel orangeworm population.
“Dr. Leal has a remarkable ability to tackle and solve intricate problems,” Carey said. In groundbreaking research published August 18, 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Leal's lab uncovered the mode of action of the insect repellent DEET, combining state-of-the-art analytical techniques with sensory physiology and behavioral studies.
Other work has included identifying a common chemical, nonanal, that explains the easy host shift of Culex mosquitoes from birds to humans. Culex mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus and other diseases. The study was published Oct. 26 in PNAS.
Widely sought as a keynote speaker, Leal “often shares the podium with Nobel Laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences,” Carey said. “Yet every summer you can find Walter in California's agricultural fields chasing beetles for pheromone identification, trapping moths with sex pheromones, and testing mosquito attractants in urban and agricultural settings.”
An active member of ESA, Leal was elected a Fellow in 2009, one of 10 so honored by the 6000-member organization that year. He has organized a number of symposia at the national meetings, and served as secretary, president and past president of the Integrative Physiological and Molecular Insect Systems Section. As a pay-it-forward entomologist, he encourages his graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to be professionally engaged.
Leal has authored 148 research publications in the general field of insect pheromones, insect chemical communication, and insect olfaction, many widely cited by his peers.
His honors include the 2008 ESA Recognition Award in Insect Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology, and the 2007 Silverstein-Simeone Award from the International Society of Chemical Ecology (ISCE). His native Brazil awarded him its Medal of the Entomological Society of Brazil, and the Medal of Science (equivalent of ESA Fellow). The Japanese Society of Applied Entomology and Zoology granted him its highest honor, Gakkaisho.
Educated in Brazil and Japan, Leal holds a doctorate in applied biochemistry from Tsukuba University, Japan, with other degrees in chemical engineering and agricultural chemistry. He is a past president of ISCE, and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Under his tenure, the department was ranked No. 1 in the country by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Woodworth Award, first presented in 1969, recognizes a PBSA member for outstanding accomplishments in entomology. Leal is the seventh scientist from the UC Davis Department of Entomology to receive the award: Other recipients: William Harry Lange, 1978; Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. 1981; Robert Washino, 1987; Thomas Leigh, 1991; Harry Kaya, 1999; and Charles Summers, 2009.
The Pacific Branch of ESA encompasses 11 U.S. states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming); several U.S. territories, including American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands; and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Charles W. Woodworth