- Walter Leal, distinguished professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Cristina Davis, the Warren and Leta Geidt Endowed Professor and Chair, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
NIA honors and encourages academic inventions that benefit society. Between the two UC Davis faculty members, they hold 42 patents: Davis with 12; and Leal with 28 Japanese and 2 U.S. patents.
Davis is a world leader in trace chemical sensing, while Leal is a leading global scientist in the field of insect olfaction and communication, investigating how insects detect odors, how they detect host and nonhost plant matter, and how they communicate within their species.
Leal's research, spanning three decades, focuses on insects that carry mosquito-borne diseases as well as agricultural pests, such as the Asian citrus psyllid and the orange navelworm. He and his lab drew international attention with their discovery of the mode of action of DEET, the gold standard of insect repellents.
We remember when Leal and a group of 18 students hosted a Zika Public Awareness Symposium in 2016 on the UC Davis campus. It was an amazing symposium that drew attention to Aedes aeqytpi, which transmits the disease. Soon thereafter, Brazilian-born Leal and his colleagues in Brazil, detected the Zika virus in wild-caught Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes in Recife, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic.
We also remember when Leal identified the sex pheromones of the navel orangeworm (Amyelois transitella), a pest of almonds, figs, pomegranates and walnuts, the major hosts. This led to practical applications of pest management techniques in the fields.
Those are just several examples of the work he does. And still, he found time to co-chair the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting, "Entomology Without Borders," in Orlando, Fla., that drew the largest delegation of scientists and experts in the history of the discipline: 6682 attendees from 102 countries.
We're not sure how Leal can find the time to do all this (see news story on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology). We figure he must have a clone! Make that multiple clones!
At any rate, Leal is the second faculty member affiliated with the entomology department to be selected an NIA fellow. The other scientist: Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Hammock is the co-founder and chief executive officer of EicOsis LLC, a Davis-based company that is developing a non-opiate drug to relieve inflammatory pain in companion animals and target chronic neuropathic pain in humans and horses.
As Hammock said: “When Walter Leal reached UC Davis (in 2000), he came with the reputation of being a 'one man army in research.' This reputation was well deserved. I know of no one at UC Davis who matches Walter in taking his remarkable fundamental advances in science and translating them to increase the safety and magnitude of world food production.”
The beetle? The walnut twig beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis.
In association with the fungus, Geosmithia morbida,it causes the insect-pathogen complex known as "thousand cankers disease," which wreaks havoc on walnut trees.
Audley will share his research at his exit seminar, "Semiochemical Interruption of Host Selection Behavior of the Invasive Walnut Twig Beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis," set for 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 4 in 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus. It's open to all interested persons.
Jackson, who joined the UC Davis doctoral program in September 2015, investigates behavioral chemicals that repel the walnut twig beetle from landing on English walnut trees. He conducts his research in a commercial orchard near Winters.
Audley says in his abstract: "The walnut twig beetle (WTB) is an invasive bark beetle pest of walnut trees in California and throughout much of its recently expanded range across the North American continent. Feeding by the beetle and canker development by the associated fungal pathogen, Geosmithia morbida, constitute the progressive and often fatal, thousand cankers disease. Management efforts to protect walnut trees are currently lacking. Here I present work related to understanding and manipulating WTB chemical ecology. First, we investigate the beetle's host-searching behavior in the context of a dense, native riparian forest habitat. The goal was to establish WTB's inflight sensitivity to host and non-host cues. Next, I present the results of flight-intercept behavioral assays of four potentially repellent volatile compounds: limonene, chalcogran, concophthorin and verbenone, first individually and then in compounds in reducing trap captures in the context of WTB aggregation phermone.
"Finally, we tested the most effective combination on whole walnut trees in a commercial, English walnut orchard. We compared beetle landing rates on treated and untreated trees as a correlate for WTB attacks. I report that we effectively reduced the number of WTB landing on treated trees; however, the repellent effect was spatially limited. Thus, further testing is required prior to recommending a management schedule. This work did provide proof of concept of semiochemical interruption in a hardwood attacking bark beetle system."
Audley, on a path to receive his doctorate in entomology this month, studied with Steve Seybold, who tragically died Nov. 15 of heart disease. Seybold was a lecturer and faculty affiliate with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a forest entomologist and chemical ecologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Davis.
Louie Yang, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and Professor Richard “Rick” Bostock of the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology serve as mentors. The Bostock lab is heavily involved with the chemistry side of Audley's repellent research.
A native of Washington, D.C., Jackson spent most of his childhood in Atlanta, Ga. He was first introduced to forest entomology while studying at the University of Georgia, Athens, where he received his bachelor of science in wildlife biology and natural resource recreation and tourism in 2009. He went on to receive his master's degree in forestry in 2015 from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he focused his thesis on managing the walnut twig beetle in cut black walnut logs, live edged boards, and nursery stock.
He recently received the 2019 Western Forest Insect Work Conference Memorial Scholarship Award for his research on the chemical ecology of the walnut twig beetle.
His career plans? “I plan to devote my career to conducting chemical ecology-based research of bark and wood boring beetles that threaten trees in forest landscapes in the western U.S.,” Audley said. “In this capacity, I plan to continue adding to the scientific understanding of bark beetle ecology and management.”
Audley aims to engage with the scientific community and public alike in the arena of forest health issues and sound forest management practices. “Our western forests are in dire need of sound forest management to return them to a healthier state, and I plan to conduct and disseminate research to help achieve that goal.”
Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, is coordinating the weekly seminars. (See list of seminars)
Bick, who received her doctorate in entomology at UC Davis in June and then headed to Denmark in August for a postdoctoral position at the University of Copenhagen, just received word that she's the recipient of a $244,000 postdoc grant from the Innovations Fund in Denmark.
Bick, who specializes in integrated pest management (IPM), received the funding for her proposal, "Optimization of Agricultural Pest Management Strategies by Combining Modeling and Digital Insect Monitoring."
"I'm excited to be working at the University of Copenhagen and partnering with digital agriculture company FaunaPhotonics integrating modeling and LIDAR detection of insects for the next two years!" she said.
Emily's entomological journey began at Cornell University, where she received her bachelor's degree in entomology in 2013. Then she crossed the country to UC Davis for her master's degree in entomology (2017), followed by her doctorate.
Her accomplishments and accolades are many. She served as an emergency medical technician from 2008 to 2017 and gained her pesticide applicator's license in 2013. She was singled out to receive the Student Certification Award at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in 2018. In 2014, she was named a Board-Certified Entomologist, a honor bestowed on her at the ESA meeting.
Emily helped anchor the UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship at the ESA meeting in 2016, and the University of California (UC Davis and UC Berkeley) Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship again in 2018. The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts and played by winners of the ESA branch competitions. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions. (Watch the championship game on YouTube)
She also served as vice president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA).
Congratulations, UC Davis alumnus Emily Bick!
Steve passed away Friday, Nov. 15 at a Sacramento hospital of a heart condition. Born in 1959 in Madison, Wisconsin, he was 60 years old. He was one of the pioneering scientists researching the newly discovered thousand cankers disease (TCD), caused by the walnut twig beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis, in association with the canker-producing fungus, Geosmithia morbida. He was a worldwide authority on the insect, fungus and disease. (See obituary in Davis Enterprise)
In his memory, he was honored with a moment of silence this week at the Entomological Society of America meeting in St. Louis, Mo.
The tributes are pouring in:
Nematologist Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology: "Steve was an excellent chemical ecologist whose research on insect pests of trees proved to be of great importance to landscapes throughout North America.”
Chemical ecologist Walter Leal, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and past chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology). "Chemical ecology lost a champion, forestry entomology lost an ally, and we will miss a friend and colleague. Steve served the International Society of Chemical Ecology as Councilor, the Journal of Chemical Ecology as Associate Editor, and mentored many undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. He elucidated biochemical mechanisms related to bark beetle pheromones, leaving behind a legacy of papers and review articles, some of which have already been cited almost one thousand times. I copied from him the style of praising colleagues when citing their good work by adding the advert 'elegantly' like in the following sentence. Steve Seybold elegantly demonstrated how bark beetles make their pheromones."
Doctoral student Jackson Audley of the Seybold lab: "Steve Seybold was a brilliant scientist and an integral component of the forest entomology community, especially here in the western USA. I admired the amount of time he spent out in the field. I have often heard it said that once a field biologist obtains a Ph.D., that they often become something of an 'armchair biologist', not Steve. I have never seen him happier than when he was out on long field excursions, hunting down various trees and tree pests. I hope to emulate that characteristic in my own career. Although my time working with Steve now feels cut abruptly and unfairly short, he imparted a great deal of wisdom upon me in that time. I am incredibly grateful to have had Steve as a mentor and a friend. He contributed a great deal to making me into the scientist I am today. He will be sorely missed."
Seybold lab alumnus Andrew Graves (now a zone leader entomologist with the Forest Service, Forest Health Protection, New Mexico Zone): "We are all shocked and saddened. Steve and I worked together for nearly 20 years. A faithful mentor, constant teacher, an incessant researcher to whom the time of day or length of time were meaningless, a good friend who contributed much to our world. A too early passing and a great loss for us all. He was a good man and will be missed by many. If I had to guess, he would've been disappointed he didn't finish that last manuscript."
Seybold lab alumnus Stacy Hishinuma, who went on to accept a position in the Pacific Southwest Region, San Bernardino: "Steve was a pivotal person in my life. I worked with him for more than 10 years and during that time he pushed me to have the highest scientific standards and taught me all I know about research. He was an involved mentor and cared deeply about the success of his students. His love was expressed through the red marks on our manuscripts, the time he spent helping us with presentations, and the pop quizzes on insect identification. When I started graduate school, people advised me to be the first person in and the last person to leave. This was impossible in the Seybold lab since Steve regularly started working before dawn. It was somehow always startling when I would email Steve at 4:00a, before heading to sleep, and he would immediately respond. Steve's work ethic was unprecedented. It was inspiring to see his passion for research. His love for science was only rivaled by his love for his daughters. I'll always miss the conversations we had driving to field sites, eating at his go-to restaurants, and geeking out about bark beetles. Thank you for everything Steve. I hope I can help carry on your legacy through my own work as a forest entomologist."
We knew him as an incredible scientist with an immense curiosity, an outstanding teacher, and a kind and caring friend. A few of the last news stories we wrote about him:
- A Sign of the Times: Why This Black Walnut Tree Is Dying
- Meet the Extreme Insects at the Bohart Museum of Entomology Open House
- Walnut Twig Beetle and Fungus Has Caused 'Profound Damage to Black Walnut Trees
Steve is survived by his widow, Julie Tillman, and daughters Natalie, 11, and Emily, 17. "Steve loved his work and his daughters with his whole self and heart," Julie said. "He will be sorely missed by his family and friends, his lab family and his huge network of professional colleagues."
A visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at Smith Funeral Home in Davis. A service will be held on Saturday, Nov. 23, at Saint James Church in Davis at 10 a.m. with interment at a later date near his father at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison. Memorials in his name may be made to the American Heart Association, National Parks Conservation Association or the Entomology and Nematology Student Support fund at UC Davis.
Jordan, the second-highest-scoring NBA player scorer (5,987 points), "wasn't good enough" to make his high school varsity basketball team (at first). And the late Tom Eisner, the renowned Cornell University professor who went on to be known as "the father of chemical ecology," just "wasn't good enough" to be accepted at Cornell as an undergraduate student.
"Sorry, you didn't make it!" probably rang in their ears.
So when chemical ecologist and distinguished professor Walter Leal of the University of California, Davis, delivers the Founders' Memorial Award Lecture on Tom Eisner (1929-2011) at the Nov. 17-20 Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in America's Center in St. Louis, Mo., the Jordan-Eisner comparison will surface amid all of Eisner's incredible accomplishments, including his National Medal of Science award in 1994 from President Bill Clinton for his "seminal contributions in the fields of insect behavior and chemical ecology, and for his international efforts on biodiversity."
Leal will speak on "Tom Eisner--An Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence" at the Founders' Breakfast meeting that begins at 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 19. His presentation, at 8:15, promises to be inspirational, educational and entertaining. (And it's free to all ESA meeting registrants.)
ESA established the Founders' Memorial Award in 1958 to honor the memory of scientists providing outstanding contributions to entomology.
Eisner is known as an exemplary scientist, teacher and leader whose research discoveries focused on how insects use their chemical substances as friends or foes: to attract mates or to defend from foes. He discovered how "a bombardier beetle creates a chemical reaction within its body and then ejects a boiling hot chemical from its abdomen." As Joe Rominiecki, ESA communications manager, said: “Notable among them was deciphering how the bombardier beetle defends itself with an internal exothermic chemical reaction, explosively sprayed at attackers. That discovery topped a lengthy list of revelations about the complex and often surprising biochemicals insects produce, from the bitter, predator-deterring taste of the cochineal scale's brilliant red pigment to the sticky foot secretions that allow the palmetto beetle to cling so tightly to leaf surfaces.“
Leal, whose career spans three decades (see Bug Squad blog) built his career on Eisner's work. So we asked Leal to name 10 interesting facts about Tom Eisner. He obliged.
- Tom Eisner was born in Berlin, grew up in Uruguay, went to college and lived the rest of life in the United States.
- In 1969 Tom gave the Founders' Memorial Lecture to honor Robert Snodgrass. This year he is being honored by the same lecture.
- Tom was an excellent musician; he owned three Steinway Grands, two remains with his daughters and one he gave to the Cornell Music Department
- His application to enter Cornell University was rejected in 1947. Ten years later he was hired as an assistant professor.
- Tom got his BS and PhD from Harvard.
- Tom is considered one of the founding fathers of chemical ecology but mentioned this cannot be proven without a paternity test.
- Tom believed that he did not have good ideas, but he always got good data to support other people's idea.
- One of Tom's many covers of Science appeared on 4th of July (1969) to highlight the “firework” from bombardier beetles.
- For an unknown reason, Tom never traveled by air. He loved to drive long stretches to allow time to connect thoughts and relive experiences.
Leal, whose distinguished career includes co-chair of the 2016 International Congress of Entomology (ICE), serves as a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and is a past chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology). In his research, Leal investigates the molecular basis of olfaction in insects and insect chemical communication. (See the Leal lab's work on DEET in Entomology Today.)
And another factoid: Leal is the first UC Davis scientist selected to present the Founders' Memorial Lecture. (Medical entomologist Shirley Luckhart of the University of Idaho, formerly of UC Davis, delivered the lecture in 2018.)
One other factoid: Tom Eisner, born in Berlin, was multi-lingual in German, French, Spanish and later English. Leal, born in Brazil, speaks Portuguese, Japanese and English fluently.