Williams, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a 2015-2020 Chancellor's Fellow, is one of only 19 UC Davis researchers so honored and one of 10 from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Williams focuses his research on the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinator insects and their interactions with flowering plants. His work is particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.
The company, based in Philadelphia, honors exceptional scientists and social scientists who have demonstrated significant influence by publishing multiple papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations in a particular field and year, over a 10-year period. Clarivate Analytics' services focus largely on analytics, including scientific and academic research, patent analytics, regulatory standards, trademark protection, pharmaceutical and biotechnology intelligence, domain brand protection and intellectual property management. The services include Web of Science, and EndNote.
“This is a wonderful testament to the incredible breadth of expertise at UC Davis and the associated global impact,” said Prasant Mohapatra, UC Davis vice chancellor for research said in a UC Davis news story. “I would like to congratulate each of the named investigators and their teams on such an inspiring accomplishment.”
Williams joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 2009 from the Bryn Mawr (Pa.) College. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a doctorate from the State University of New York, Stony Brook.
He was named a Chancellor's Fellow in 2015, a five-year program that granted him $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. The program, established in 2000 to honor the achievements of outstanding faculty members early in their careers, is funded in part by the Davis Chancellor's Club and the Annual Fund of UC Davis.
As Professor Williams, professor, researcher, educator and mentor, says on his website:
"Our research addresses basic questions about bee ecology, evolution, and behavior. We explore the intricacies of pollinator-floral interactions from animal and plant perspectives. We seek to understand the persistence of pollinator populations, pollinator and plant communities, and pollination in the context of global change."
Check out the UC Davis piece on "How to Weigh a Bumble Bee."
How that project began: Williams and postdoctoral researcher Rosemary Malfi set out to research how the short-term loss of floral resources affects bumble bees, specifically the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, a common bumble bee native to the West Coast of the United States. Its importance to agriculture, including the pollination of greenhouse tomatoes, cannot be overstated.
So, "the bee team," led by Williams, decided they needed to weigh the bees as part of their research. They engaged mechanical and electrical engineers on the UC Davis campus to see if they could come up with a "bee scale" to weigh individual foragers.
They could and they did. It's a great example of innovative and interdisciplinary research. (See post on Bug Squad blog)
So wrote an undergraduate student in one of Lynn Kimsey's entomology classes at the University of California, Davis.
The student meant "sperm."
But it came out "perm."
Now some of the prized collection has found its way into an innovative and fun calendar published by the Bohart Museum of Entomology and illustrated by talented graphic artist Karissa Merritt, a fourth-year entomology student at UC Davis.
For the bee sentence, Merritt depicted a queen bee in a salon admiring herself after receiving a permanent, the royal treatment. The accommodating drone (note the wrap-around eyes!) approves.
Other prized sentences include:
- “The swarmers are attracted to lights and tend to expose themselves in the evenings.” (see art below)
- "The infected fleas can harbor rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, and occasionally, even house cats.” (see art below)
Merritt, a two-year Bohart associate, illustrated the entire calendar, drawing upon her creativity, humor and imagination. “Karissa is a gifted graphic artist,” Kimsey said.
That she is!
The calendar, published by Tara Baumann & Associates of Vacaville, is a project of the non-profit Bohart Museum Society. The calendar sells for $12 at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Those who contribute $50 or more to the Bohart Museum Society will receive a calendar with their donation. All proceeds are earmarked for research, education and outreach projects.
“One aspect of teaching this course is the writing requirement," she explained. "Students at UC Davis are required to take a number of units in general education, science and writing. My course fulfills two of those requirements, which means that I have to require—and grade—student term papers as part of their assignments. I can say definitely that student writing abilities have not improved over the years. So, to alleviate the pain of grading these works of art, I started collecting particularly silly or otherwise awesome sentences from their papers.”
Lynn Kimsey, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, joined the faculty in 1989. She specializes in bees, wasps and insect diversity.
Karissa Merritt not only enjoys drawing insects but teaching others how to do so. Last January, the Bohart Museum featured her as an “artist in residence” at its open house on insects and art. She offered tips on how to draw insects and took requests from youths. “It was touching to see how something like mundane doodling could bring smiles to kids' faces,” she said. “In fact, many ended up going home with original art work!"
Merritt says insects have always fascinated her. "I've always loved insects and the natural world but I didn't realize entomology was a viable career choice until one of my friends starting working in the Essig Museum of Entomology at UC Berkeley," she said. She credits her attendance at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, with sparking “a strong interest in pollinators and a particular interest in bees and how I can contribute to their future."
What especially fascinates her the most about insects? “How alien their biology and morphology as compared to vertebrates,” Merritt said. “But working in the Bohart, I find many specimens that just amaze me with their beauty. Insects are just so diverse and it's amazing what nature produces!"
Merritt's favorite insect order is Hymenoptera, which includes bees, ants and wasps. “But I like all insects,” she acknowledged. She learned beekeeping when she volunteered in the lab of Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.
Merritt is also an alumnus of “Bug Boot Camp,' a five-week insect taxonomy and field ecology course taught by Phil Ward, UC Davis professor of entomology and held at the Sagehen Creek Field Station, in California's northern Sierra Nevada. That course enabled her to sharpen her taxonomy skills.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, and is the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity. The facility also includes a gift shop and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas.
The Bohart Museum is open to the public (free admission) from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing email@example.com.
But newly published research by UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen and insect physiologist Michael Strand of the University of Georgia reveals a new, non-destructive and quite accurate method to characterize physiological responses to parasitism: proximal remote sensing or body reflectance response data.
They published their research, “Proximal Remote Sensing to Non-Destructive Detect and Diagnose Physiological Response by Host Insect Larvae to Parasitism,” Dec. 4 in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Nansen, first author of the paper and an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, specializes in insect ecology, integrated pest management and remote sensing. Strand, a professor of entomology at the University of Georgia, is an international authority on the physiology of insect parasitism.
The scientists studied two common parasitic wasps or parasitoids, Microplitis demolitor, and Copidosoma floridanum, which lay their eggs in the larval stages of the soybean looper moth, Chrysodeixis includens. The pest, found throughout much of North and South America and elsewhere, feeds on soybeans.
“Based on reflectance data acquired three to five days post-parasitism, all three treatments (control larvae, and those parasitized by either M. demolitor or C. floridanum) could be classified with more than 85 percent accuracy,” they wrote.
Due to parasitism-induced inhibition of growth, “it's easy to differentiate soybean loopers parasitized by M. demolitor from non-parasitized larvae as long as the developmental stage of the host larva is known,” they said. In addition, a single M. demolitoroffspring emerges from the host larva 7-9 days post-parasitism to pupate, while non-parasitized larvae continue to increase in size to the final instar.
Copidosoma floridanum minimally alters host growth until late in the final instar, when thousands of wasp progeny complete their development. This wasp is known for having the largest recorded brood—3,055 individuals--of any parasitoidal insect.
The researchers said that the accuracy rate of more than 85 percent holds promise. “The hyperspectral proximal imaging technologies represent an important frontier in insect physiology, as these technologies can be used non-invasively to characterize physiological response across a range of time scale factors, such as minutes of exposure or acclimation to abiotic factors, circadian rhythms, and seasonal effects. Although this study is based on data from a host-parasitoid system, results may be of broad relevance to insect physiologists.”
Both of the wasps they studied are idiobionts and endoparasitoids.
Nansen noted that “many species of minute wasps are parasitoids of eggs and larvae of other insects, and parasitism represents one of the most extreme life strategies among animals”
“Living inside the body of another animal,” he said, “poses a series of non-trivial challenges, including how to overcome/suppress the defense response by the host; how to obtain oxygen; how to feed on the host without killing it--because once the host is dead, then microbial organisms and general decomposition will make the host body unsuitable--and how to manage waste.”
Nansen likened the developing parasitoids to astronauts flying in a space capsule. “A developing parasitoid faces a long list of serious practical challenges, so the evolutionary selection pressure has been immense and lead to some of the most extreme cases of co-evolution.”
And those soybean loopers? Those major pests of soybeans? Thanks to this research, we now know more about physiological responses to parasitism--and there's more to come. (We're also admiring the amazing photography of Jena Johnson!)
As the researchers said: "The hyperspectral proximal imaging technologies represent an important frontier in insect physiology."
"It" is the three-cornered alfalfa hopper, Spissistilus festinus, a lear-winged, wedge-shaped (thus the name "three-cornered") insect that's about a quarter of an inch long. That's about the size of a pomegranate seed.
And the spotlight will shine on the hopper on Wednesday, Dec. 5 when Cindy Preto--who recently received her master's degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis, studying with major professor Frank Zalom--delivers a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar.
Preto's hourlong seminar, titled “Behavior and Biology of the Three-Cornered Alfalfa Hopper in Vineyards," begins at 4:10 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, located on Kleiber Hall Drive. Preto received her bachelor's degree in viticulture and enology, with an entomology minor in agricultural pest management, from UC Davis in 2014.
Zalom, a distinguished professor in the department, a former director of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), and a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), will introduce her.
Back in October of 2016, UC Davis-based research on the three-cornered alfalfa hopper and the Grapevine Red Blotch Disease grabbed the headlines. It made the cover story of a special focus issue, "Disease Management in the Genomics Era," in the journal Phytopathology.
Zalom and research biologist Mysore "Sudhi" Sudarshana of the USDA's Agriculture Research Services (ARS), who is based in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology, led the research.
In 2015, the Zalom team hypothesized that the three-cornered alfalfa hopper could transmit the Grapevine Red Blotch-associated virus, GRBaV, "based in part on phylogeneic analysis of coat protein sequences of 23 geminiviruses that revealed that GRBaV-CP was most similar to that of another geminivirus that was transmitted by another treehopper," explained Zalom, a distinguished professor of entomology with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a past president of the Entomological Society of America
Their research, published in the journal, confirms that the alfalfa hopper “was able to both acquire the virus from a grapevine infested with GRBaV and transmit the virus to healthy grapevines in the laboratory.”
“In commercial vineyards, lateral shoots of grapevines girdled due to feed injury by the adult three-cornered alfalfa hopper also tested positive for the virus using digital PCR,” the scientists noted in their abstract. “These findings represent an important step in understanding the biology of GRBaV and develop management guidelines.”
The disease, first noticed in 2008 and attributed to a newly identified virus in 2012, is present in many major grape production regions of the United States and Canada. It can reduce fruit quality and ripening. (See this UC IPM document, written by Zalom and his colleagues.)
The scientific name, Spissistilus festinus, sounds a little festive--especially when mentioned during the holiday season.
Names can be deceiving.
Newly published research by a team of Germany-based honey bee geneticists, collaborating with Robert Eugene (“Rob”) Page Jr., of Arizona State University/University of California, Davis, offers new insights in the ability to modify and study the chromosomes of honey bees.
Martin Beye, a professor at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany and a former postdoctoral fellow in Page's lab at UC Davis, served as the lead author of the research, “Improving Genetic Transformation Rates in Honeybees,” published in Scientific Reports in the journal Nature.
The researchers accomplished the work in Beye's lab in Germany and the Page labs.
“The significance of this paper lies in the ability to modify the chromosomes of honey bees and study the effects of individual genes,” said Page, former professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University provost.
“The honey bee genome,” Page explained, “is composed of about 15,000 genes, each of which operates within a complex network of genes, doing its small, or large, share of work in building the bee, keeping its internal functions operating, or helping it function and behave in its environment. The ability to transform, change, genes, or add or delete genes from chromosomes of bees, has been exceptionally challenging and the effort spans decades. Martin tackles problems such as this. He takes on the most challenging genetic problems and solves them.”
Beye was the first to map the major sex-determining gene for honey bees, considered one of the most important papers ever published on honey bee genetics. He “then moved on and developed a way to implement gene editing, being able to alter single genes within the genome,” Page related. “Now he has developed a method to introduce new genetic material into the honey bee.”
In their abstract, the six-member team wrote that “Functional genetic studies in honeybees have been limited by transformation tools that lead to a high rate of transposon integration into the germline of the queens. A high transformation rate is required to reduce screening efforts because each treated queen needs to be maintained in a separate honeybee colony. Here, we report on further improvement of the transformation rate in honeybees by using a combination of different procedures.”
Specifically, the geneticists employed a hyperactive transposase protein (hyPBaseapis), tripling the amount of injected transposase mRNAs. They injected embryos into the first third (anterior part) of the embryo. These three improvements together doubled the transformation rate from 19 percent to 44 percent.
“We propose that the hyperactive transposase (hyPBaseapis) and the other steps used may also help to improve the transformation rates in other species in which screening and crossing procedures are laborious,” they wrote in their abstract.
For their research, the scientists chose feral Carniolan or carnica colonies. Carniolans, a darker bee, are a subspecies of the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera.
Beye joined the Page lab in 1999 as the recipient of a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship, an award given to the brightest young German Ph.Ds to provide an opportunity for them to work in the laboratories of U.S. recipients of the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize. Page, who won the Humboldt Prize in 1995, continues to focus his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior.
Following his postdoctoral fellowship, Beye returned to the Page labs at UC Davis and ASU as a visiting scientist. (link to https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/honeybee-gene-find-ends-150-year-search ) Beye spoke at UC Davis this spring as part of his Humboldt-funded mini sabbatical, the guest of Page and hosted by the Department of Entomology and Nematology. During his visit, he and UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson developed collaborative projects that they will begin in the spring of 2019. “This is exactly what the Alexander von Humboldt foundation wants – to build and extend interactive networks of researchers,” Page commented.
About Robert Page Jr.
Noted honey bee geneticist Robert Page Jr., author of The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution, published by Harvard University Press in 2013, recently received the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Award, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Page received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and served as a professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University (ASU) provost. He maintained a honey bee breeding program managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, for 24 years, from 1989 to 2015.
Now provost emeritus of ASU and Regents Professor since 2015, he continues his research, teaching and public service in both Arizona and California and has residences in both states. He plans to move to California in December.
Page focuses his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. One of his most salient contributions to science was to construct the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.