Coomer, who delivered her video presentation on “Trade-Offs Between Virulence and Breaking Resistance in Root-Knot Nematodes,” was selected one of the nine finalists in a global graduate student competition sponsored by the International Federation of Nematologists (IFN). The final round will take place later this month.
Coomer joins only one other graduate student from the United States in the finals: Bhupendra Bhatta of the University of Idaho, Moscow. The others are from universities in England, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Kenya, Belgium and South Africa.
IFN hosts the competition "to cultivate student academic and research communication skills, and to enhance overall awareness of nematodes and the science of nematology."
The awards will be announced before January 2022. The first-, second-, and third-place winners will be awarded busaries and plaques at the 7th International Congress of Nematology, set May 1-6 in Antibes, Frances.
For the competition, the participants were required to present only a single static slide, and not use any props or sound-effects. Judges scored them on the quality of their research presentation, ability to communicate research to non-specialists, and the 3MT slide. Each was to use lay language.
In her presentation, Coomer began with: “Root-knot nematodes, specifically the MIG-group, consisting of Meloidogyne incognita, javanica, and arenaria, are the most damaging of the plant parasitic nematodes causing severe yield loss in over 2,000 different plant species including tomatoes. The Mi-gene, which is a resistance gene in tomato, has been used in commercial farming and has been praised for its effectiveness towards the MIG group. This gene has been cloned but the mechanisms of how it's resistance works is still unknown.”
“We do know that with the presence of the MI gene, plants are more durable and will restrict infection and reproduction, by inducing an immune response within the plant,” Coomer pointed. “Although this resistance gene has been reliable for many decades, resistance breaking strains of root-knot nematodes have emerged threatening the tomato industry.”
Coomer related that her research “compares two strains of the root-knot nematode M. javanica. One strain is the wildtype, which has been isolated from fields, we will refer to it as VW4. This nematode can infect tomato plants, but when the MI gene is present, the nematode is blocked from successfully infecting. The other strain is a naturally mutated version of VW4. This strain breaks the resistance provided by the MI gene and therefore infects plants that contain the MI gene. I have labeled this strain as VW5. With the help of research like mine we can stay ahead of the resistance breaking strains and prevent major crop loss in the future.”
“Sequencing the entire genome of VW5 when compared to VW4, we can see that there is a large deletion in its genome, but we have yet to find out what genes were deleted and how important they are when it comes to infecting other plants,” she continued. “My research is focusing on what happens when we infect the resistance breaking strain, VW5 on plants not containing the MI gene.”
In detailing her research, she said “My infection assays have been designed as displayed by the flow chart. Tomato and cucumber were used since neither variety contained the MI gene. 500 J2s were inoculated and at 34 days post inoculation, roots were harvested, and eggs were collected. After staining, galls were dissected, and nematode stage development was recorded for juveniles and females; comparisons between the two roots were made. As displayed by the graph and image, consistently, we see a reduction in the number of eggs produced in plants infected with VW5 than with VW4. The image also shows significant reduction in galls for VW5s as well. Two main objectives remain for this project: How does VW5 break MI resistance and why is VW5 less fit on plants that do not contain the MI gene. With the help of further infection assays and genomic data regarding gene presence and transcription analysis we hope to shed light on this process, identify candidate genes in action, and overall identify how the mechanism of the MI gene works.”
Coomer, a doctoral student in plant pathology with an emphasis on nematology, is working on her dissertation, "Plant Parasitic Nematode Effectors and Their Role in the Plant Defense Immune System," advised by Siddique.
Coomer, originally from the St. Louis, Mo., area, received two bachelor degrees--one in biology and the other in chemistry--in May 2020 from Concordia University, Seward, Neb., where she won the Outstanding Graduate Student in Biology Award. She served as a biology lab assistant and taught courses in general biology and microbiology.
As a biological science aide/intern, Coomer did undergraduate research in the Sorghum Unit of USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Lincoln, Neb. Her work included collecting, prepping and analyzing DNA, RNA and proteins to identify genes that contribute to an under- and over-expression of lignin in sorghum plants.
If you've ever been asked that, you may have responded--quite politely--"Small, thank you!"
You probably didn't thank the squash bees.
But as we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, let's remember that squash bees probably pollinated the pumpkin that ended up as a pie on your table.
The squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, is a specialist that pollinates only the cucurbits or squash family, Cucurbitaceae, which includes pumpkins, squash, gourds, cucumbers and zucchini. P. pruinosa is a species of solitary bee in the tribe Eucerini, the long-horned bees. There's also another genera, Xenoglossa.
Squash bees are early risers, rising before the sun does. They begin pollinating the blossoms as soon as they open. Other bee species, such as honey bees (which are non-natives), don't visit the flowers so early.
Around noon, the blossoms close for the day, so there's a limited time for pollination--and a limited time to admire and photograph them.
The females are ground nesters. "The males sleep in the blossoms at night and wait for the females to arrive," the late late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, told us.
Another attribute: The squash bee is a native of North America, unlike the honey bee.
"Before Europeans brought honey bees to the New World, squash bees were busy aiding the adoption, domestication, spread, and production of squashes and gourds by indigenous peoples throughout the Americas," according to an article by USDA research entomologist James Cane.
"Hey, there, pumpkin, do you want another piece of pie, pollinated by our native bees, the squash bees?"
Everything in your garden has a place, and your place should be a healthy, thriving garden--free of pesticides, says Frédérique Lavoipierre.
Lavoipierre, author of the newly published book, Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving, writes in the introduction: "Of course, we know the pollinators are our allies, but what about all those other insects? I have a few tips, but first, I generally don't think of bugs as good or bad. Indeed, I have learned to think of them in their ecological roles, as prey and predators, pollinators, decomposers and so on."
Everything in nature is connected, she recently told Pacific Coast Entomological Society (PCES) in a Zoom meeting. She quoted John Muir: "When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world."
Basically, if you rid your garden of insects, what will the birds eat? If you rid your garden of aphids, no lady beetles or soldier beetles for you! If you rid your garden of caterpillars, no more butterflies fluttering around for you to admire and photograph. Everything in nature is connected.
Lavoipierre's engaging and educational book, published by Timber Press and illustrated with intricate pen-and-ink drawings by Craig Latker, should be required reading for those interested in planting a pollinator garden or those who want to learn more about the critters--"above, under, around and within"--that visit or live there.
"So I grew up with a dad who loved all things entomological," Frédérique said. Her father's last graduate student was Bob Kimsey, now a longtime forensic entomologist on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty.
Frédérique went on to study at Sonoma State University; obtain her master's degree in biology, with an emphasis on ecological principles of sustainable landscapes; become the founding director of the Sonoma State University Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate Program; and serve as the director of education at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.
Today she is a consultant and serves on the editorial advisory group for the American Public Gardens Association.
And today, as the author of Garden Allies and a staunch supporter of healthy, thriving gardens--"gardens matter"--she's eager to spread the word about her love of gardens; why you should love them, too; and why you should appreciate the organisms that live "above, under, around and within." She recently set up a Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/Garden.Allies to interact with her readers and garden enthusiasts.
"I wrote Garden Allies as a series for Pacific Horticulture Magazine for ten years," Lavoipierre' recalled. "It's been a terrific COVID project!"
Her husband titled the book. In her introduction, she writes: "Long ago when I first began writing about natural enemies of herbivorous insects, my husband said to me, 'Why don't you call them garden allies instead?'"
"My book is written for readers throughout North America, north of Mexico and is based on conservation biological control," she told PCES.
"I'm a big fan of native plants," Lavoipierre acknowledged. "They support the habitat more. I'm not a purist; I'm a gardener...If you like to grow hydrangeas in in your garden that remind you of your grandmother, you should."
In her talk, she showed images of bees, beetles, butterflies, bats, syrphid flies, dragonflies, lacewings, spiders, praying mantids, birds, earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, and more. "Everything is food for something else."
"And it all starts with the soil. It all begins there, with the soil...You'll have a rich environment if you have healthy soil." In discussing earthworms aerating the soil and what a rototiller can do to disrupt life, she added: "I'm an advocate of no tilling."
Lavoipierre said she visits public gardens at every opportunity. "I look at the flowers, what's visiting them, what's eating what..."
Her tips include: remove your lawn and plant a pollinator garden; plant natives as much as possible; don't use pesticides; install a bat box; join INaturalist; become a citizen scientist and participate in groups such as Bumble Bee Watch; and turn off the lights at night ("it's bad for a lot of insects--check out darksky.org").
And just enjoy your garden, she told PCES. "You don't have to know what everything is to live with it."
Her takeaway message, given to Bug Squad: "Gardens, large and small, make a difference. Reducing (or even eliminating!) pesticides protects us all--the bees and other pollinators, but also other essential organisms such as predators, parasitoids, and pathogens that attack herbivorous insects and keep them in check; and decomposers and soil organisms that keep our gardens thriving. And yes, herbivorous insects are essential--important food for birds and many other animals. Healthy garden food webs keep our watersheds and larger environment safe from pollution."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Bohart's Lepidoptera collection, had just finished integrating them into the insect museum, which houses some 7 million insect specimens. The moths and butterfly specimens alone total more than 500,000.
Sadly, Chuck Hageman passed away Sept. 20, 2021 at age 76. His obituary in the Appeal Democrat appears in legacy.com.
The obituary pays tribute to his love of family, friends and butterflies:
"Chuck was one of those individuals who spoke very little but his presence spoke volumes. Whether it was just an utterance of a few words or his grunts about an unfavorable situation, you always knew where he stood. His love for his family, butterflies, his 1939 Chevy two door coupe and the tree filled orchards showed his passion for the things that mattered most. However, he lived a quiet life with a large footprint that people will be able to see for years to come."
"Very few people knew that Chuck had a large private butterfly collection, one of the largest in North America for Northern California butterflies. One of Chuck's many journeys with friends was along Sierra Nevada Mountains both north and south of Yuba City, where he helped in the study of a new sub-species of butterfly. In fact, this butterfly was named Speyeria Callippe Hagemani in his honor for his knowledge, and many years of field research of California butterflies. Specimens of the new butterfly are deposited and can be seen at the Los Angeles County National Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles, California. Chuck left a collection of butterflies to several different museums across the United States to include UC Davis Bohart Museum and McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida." (See more.)
Smith remembers him well. "He was one of our largest donors," he said. "I went to Chuck's house several times in the past five years to bring back his huge collection that he wanted the Bohart Museum to have. His health wasn't great but we sat and talked for hours as he reminisced about his collecting years, many times with my brother in many California locales. He was, as the obituary says, a very nice and gracious man."
Chuck Hageman left a lasting legacy, one that generations of scientific researchers, butterfly enthusiasts and the general public can learn from and enjoy.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, now celebrating the 75th year of its founding, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. However, due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions, it is currently closed to the public but is open to scientific researchers.
Bohart Museum officials look forward to the re-opening of the insect museum and to the popular weekend open houses that were held throughout the academic year, pre-COVID.
By Geoff Attardo
Assistant Professor of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis
California's changing climate is creating a myriad of public health concerns. Wildfires, intense heatwaves, and a drought are the most readily apparent. However, increasingly temperate winters are also facilitating the spread of invasive disease-spreading mosquitoes throughout the state. Just as our fire authorities need a robust set of tools to address wildfires, it is critical that mosquito control and public health professionals have a wide range of tools to protect Californians from mosquito-borne diseases.
The growing presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can transmit the viruses that cause Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever as well as the parasite that causes heartworm in pets, is a major public health threat. In 2013 this invasive species was detected in the Central Valley and has been found in California every year since. These mosquitoes cohabitate with humans and often hitchhike facilitating their spread.
Aedes aegypti lay eggs in flowerpots, water storage containers or anything capable of holding small amounts of water. Part of the problem, as highlighted in our research in Frontiers in Tropical Diseases, is that these mosquitoes have cryptic breeding sites in residential areas where mosquito control agencies can't easily inspect and treat.
In addition, their eggs can dry out and then hatch when rehydrated. In fact, when Aedes aegypti were detected in 2014 in the city of Exeter there was a large eradication effort. The effort appeared successful, as they were no longer detectable in 2015. Yet, the mosquitoes were detected in Exeter again in 2018. The unique biology of this invasive species has allowed it to expand its geographical range and today they are present in more than 300 cities in California.
Another key factor is their inherent resistance to a class of insecticides called pyrethroids, which have been a mainstay for adult mosquito control because they have low toxicity to humans and other animals. Work from our lab and the California Department of Public Health found increasing insecticide resistance in these mosquitoes (Parasites and Vectors) which limits the ability of mosquito control agencies to act against adult mosquitoes in a time of crisis.
In order to protect public health, mosquito control agencies need effective tools in their toolbox. One innovative approach takes advantage of the fact that male mosquitoes do not bite; only female mosquitoes bite and can spread viruses. This approach works by releasing sterile male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. These male-only mosquitoes carry a self-limiting gene that prevents their female offspring from surviving. When they mate with females, this reduces the abundance of biting females in the next generation. One of the benefits of this species-specific approach is that it only targets the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This means that wildlife, such as butterflies and bees, are unharmed.
The public health threat of Aedes aegypti cannot be overstated. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that dengue fever causes approximately 40,000 deaths a year and Zika virus, of which there were over 5,100 symptomatic domestic cases in 2016, is known to cause serious birth defects and miscarriage as well as Guillain-Barré syndrome. The WHO also said “the potential public health benefit of practical and effective new tools to reduce or even eliminate diseases such as malaria and dengue is clear and widely recognized.”
A company called Oxitec is working with government agencies to bring its innovative mosquito control technology to the U.S. In August, they announced they are seeking regulatory approvals to expand their pilot program to bring their Friendly™ Aedes aegypti technology to California. I encourage regulators to allow the company to work with mosquito control agencies to determine the technology's effectiveness in California.
It's clear that we need efficient mosquito control tools, and we cannot wait until we have a public health emergency to act. As we have seen with the COVID pandemic it is critical to have an infrastructure in place, especially one that includes innovative – and proven – technologies, to help public health and mosquito controls stay ahead of the curve.