"Ento-what?" some folks will ask. "What's that?"
Five-year-old Rebecca Jean "RJ" Millena could have told you.
She still can.
When she was a kindergarten student in Concord, Calif., RJ wrote exactly this on her "About Me" poster: "When I grow up, I want to be an entomologist."
Fast forward to today. She's now 22, a senior majoring in entomology at the University of California, Davis, and an outstanding student researcher in the laboratory of UC Davis Distinguished Professor Jay Rosenheim of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. And she's just accepted a four-year, full-ride fellowship offer to a PhD program at the American Museum of Natural History to join the systematics laboratory of Dr. Jessica Ware.
RJ, who studies those bizarre Strepsiptera endoparasites that attack their hosts, the Ammophila (thread-waisted) wasps, spent two years at the Bohart Museum of Entomology studying the specimens. As larvae, members of the order Strepsiptera, known as “twisted wings,” enter their hosts, including wasps and bees, through joints or sutures.
The Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million specimens, houses “about 30,000 specimens of Ammophila from multiple continents,” says director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology. Global wasp authority and UC Davis alumnus Arnold Menke (he studied for his 1965 doctorate with Professor Richard Bohart) identified most of them. Menke's publication, "The Ammophila of North and Central America (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae)” is the bible of Ammophila research.
But back to what children want to be when they grow up. Usually they say cowboy, truck driver, cook, teacher, dancer, actor, musician, artist, athlete, firefighter, detective, writer, police officer, astronaut, pilot, veterinarian, lawyer, doctor and the like.
But rarely "entomologist," the scientific study of insects.
RJ's enthusiasm toward insects is highly contagious. (Read more about her in this news feature.)
'I Wanna Be an Entomologist'
Back in 2011 we were delighted to see UC Davis Regents Scholar Heather Wilson, a researcher/lab technician in the Frank Zalom laboratory, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, create a fun-filled, innovative video, "I Wanna Be an Entomologist," a take-off of "I Wanna Be a Billionaire" from Travie McCoy's Lazarus album.
Heather entered her project in an Entomological Society of America (ESA) contest and won recognition.
In her video, she runs with an insect net, counts bugs in the Zalom lab, watches bees in a hive, and visits the Bohart Museum. At the Bohart, she hugs a display of butterflies and cradles a rose-haired tarantula and Madagascar hissing cockroach from its live "petting zoo."
"I wanna be an entomologist, so freakin' bad," Wilson sings.
"I wanna be on the cover
Of Economic Entomology
Smiling next to Frank and Jim Carey..."
"Frank and Jim" are Frank Zalom and James R. Carey, UC Davis distinguished professors in the Department of Entomology and Nematology. Zalom is a past president of the 7000-member ESA. Both are elected fellows.
Watch Heather Wilson's video at https://youtu.be/rwNbbJgXNXA and you'll probably decide being an entomologist sounds much more fun than being a billionaire. Who wants to be a billionaire, anyway? Let's go check out the insects!
The entomology line forms over there...don't crowd and don't cut in.
UC Davis integrated pest management (IPM) specialist Frank Zalom distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and research biologist Mysore "Sudhi" Sudarshana of the USDA's Agriculture Research Services (ARS), based in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology, directed the eye-opening research.
Fast forward to today: It's just been announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) has awarded a four-year, $3 million grant, "Ecobiology, Impact, and Management of Grapevine Red Blotch Virus and Its Vector(s) in California and Oregon Vineyards," to UC Davis scientists.
The grapevine red blotch virus is an urgent problem that threatens the $162 billion grape industry.
Now UC Davis scientists, in collaboration with UC Berkeley and Oregon State University researchers, are targeting the virus and its vector or vectors.
“Red blotch is a huge new problem for the grape industry, and this is the first large government grant to study it,” said project director Anita Oberholster, Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. “We will be working in partnership to take the first steps to understand the disease and develop sustainable management practices to support the grape industry.”
First identified in 2012, the disease affects grapevines of all varieties and is internationally present. Symptoms typically include red blotches on the leaves of red varieties, and pale green or pale yellow blotches on white varieties.
"Although our knowledge of red blotch virus and its spread has improved in the short period of time since it was first discovered, there are still many questions to be answered in order to understand its epidemiology and develop an effective management strategy," Zalom said. "For example, we need to understand mechanisms for how the virus affects grapevines, and if there are additional vectors."
In their successful grant application, the scientists wrote that grapevine red blotch virus (GRBV) is a prominent disease found in the majority of grape growing regions in California and Oregon. "The grape industry currently lacks best practices for detecting and preventing spread of GRBV within and among vineyards. The discovery of S. festinus as a vector of GRBV significantly increased the possibility of better understanding the epidemiology of GRBD and ultimately its management. However, GRBD spread also occurs in vineyards where S. festinus has not been found. Therefore, information on potential additional vector species in these regions is paramount."
"Replanted vineyards in California and Oregon have experienced reinfections and a better understanding on the prevalence of GRBV and assessment of risk factors are needed," they wrote. "Proposed research will address knowledge gaps involving the epidemiology of the virus as driven by studies on its vectors and determining how the disease affects grapevine performance and grape quality. The economic impact of GRBV infection on producers and nurseries will also be determined. Sustainable GRBV management strategies developed from the project will be implemented to enhance economic and social impacts and to reduce the impact on environment. This project brings together researchers, extension specialists and stakeholders from CA and OR to help solve a significant new problem facing this valuable specialty crops industry. Outreach activities will be extended to the other states and can thus impact the grape industry in the country."
(UC Davis News Service contributed to this piece)
"The spotted-wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, first invaded California in 2008," says UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Brian Gress, "and has since rapidly spread throughout North America and Europe."
Gress will discuss "Host Selection and Resistance Evolution in Drosophila Suzukii" at a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 9 in 122 Briggs Hall.
He will be introduced by his advisor, integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a past president of the Entomological Society of America.
"The female D. suzukii possess a unique serrated ovipositor that allows them to cut into ripening fruit, causing major economic losses for berry and cherry producers across the globe," Gress writes in his abstract. "Growers rely heavily on the use of insecticides to control this pest, and spinosad is among the most important materials currently available for protecting susceptible host crops."
Recent reports, however, "have raised concerns that the efficacy of this insecticide is declining in fields near Watsonville, Calif., a major hub of commercial berry production in the United States," Gress says. "In this seminar, I will present a series of studies aimed at assessing the degree of resistance in the population, the evolutionary potential for resistance to increase, and novel strategies for managing resistance in the field."
The spotted-wing drosophila, a major agricultural pest, damages fruit in many California counties, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Program (UC IPM). "The males have a black spot toward the top of each wing. The females have not spots. They have "a very prominent, sawlike ovipositor for laying eggs in fruit."
Gress joined the Zalom lab in January 2017. He lists his research aims as
- understand the evolutionary processes and genetic mechanisms that give rise to insecticide resistance in agricultural pests;
- develop sustainable and cost-effective strategies for managing agricultural pests by disrupting insect mating behavior and reproductive physiology; and
- assess population dynamics and demography of wild insect populations in the field.
Gress holds bachelor of science degrees in biology and psychology, magna cum laude, from Iowa State University, Ames (2011), and a doctorate in biological science from Syracuse (N.Y.) University (2016).
At Syracuse, Gress received the 2016 Alexander Gourevitch Memorial Award, in recognition of research excellence; and the 2016 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Dissertation Award. In 2015 he was awarded a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant of $19,050.
"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.
More than 2000 scientists are registered to attend the meeting, to be held Sept. 2-6 in Gramado, Brazil.
UC Davis scientists delivering plenary addresses will be Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a past president of the Entomological Society of America (ESA); Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a past chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology; and Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. More than 2000 attendees are registered.
On behalf of ESA, Zalom is co-organizing and co-chairing a joint conference with Antonio Panizzi, a past president and international delegate of the Entomological Society of Brazil. That event, to take place the day before the XXVII Congresso Brasileiro and X Congresso Latino-Americano meeting, will involve developing a “Grand Challenge Agenda for Entomology in South America.
Zalom will speak on “The American Experience with the Grand Challenge Agenda in Entomology.” In addition, ESA president Michael Parrella, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Idaho and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will provide an update on the 2018 ESA annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B. C. Speakers also will include the presidents of the entomological societies of Argentina, Peru and Brazil.
Leal, a native of Brazil, will present the opening lecture of the joint conference of the XXVII Brazilian Congress and X Latin American Congress of Entomology on “Insect Vectors: Science with Applications in Agriculture and Medicine,” on Sunday, Sept. 2. This will be his fourth opening lecture—a record—at the Brazilian Congresses of Entomology (2004 in Gramado; 2008 in Uberlandia; and 2014 in Goiania). As an aside, legendary entomologist Marcos Kogan previously held the record: he presented two opening lectures, one in 1983 and another in 2002. Both Leal and Kogan (professor emeritus of agricultural entomology, University of Illinois and professor emeritus, Oregon State University) were elected ESA fellows; Leal in 2009 and Kogan in 2016. Zalom received the honor in 2008.
Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist, and former director of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) and Chiu, who specializes in molecular genetics of animal behavior, will speak on their research at the joint meeting. Zalom will deliver a plenary address on “Drosophila suzukii in the United States” on Sept. 5, and Chiu will keynote a symposium on Sept. 3; her lecture is titled “Circadian Clock Research Applied to Agriculture and Public Health.” She will give a second lecture: "Drosophila as an Insect Model" on Sept. 3.
The spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is a serious pest of fruit crops. Most drosophila flies feed on spoiled fruits, but SWD prefers fresh fruit (berries and soft-skinned fruits). Read more about SWD on the UC IPM website.