Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Leal, professor of biochemistry in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former professor and chair of the Department of Entomology, said Thorp "epitomizes how emeriti contribute to UC Davis."
Thorp, a 30-year member of the entomology faculty, and a tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, retired in 1994, but he continued working until several weeks before his death on June 7, 2019, at age 85. In 2014, he co-authored two books: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University,) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). He published more than 50 percent of his papers following his retirement."
“Robbin's scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many other academic scientists,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, at the time of the legendary entomologist's death. “His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.”
The video tribute is online at
It includes images and accomplishments of many of the emeriti, meant as a small representation of the achievements of all. (See news story)
In his message, Chancellor May told the new emeriti: "You played a central role in keeping UC Davis at the forefront of excellence. Your continued engagement through teaching, research, volunteering and philanthropy is vital to our continued growth and success. So I encourage you to stay engaged with campus. The UC Davis Emeriti Association is here with resources and support for this newest chapter of your career. Please take advantage of it. Thank you for our dedication to UC Davis and congratulations on reaching this milestone."
Among its many activities, UC Davis Emeriti Association (UCDEA) interviews and records emeriti who have made "significant contributions to the development of the university." (See Video Records Project.)
One of them is Robbin Thorp. (Watch the video here.)
Congratulations to Melody Keena, UC Davis alumna and entomologist extraordinaire.
Keena, a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Research Station in Hamden, Conn., is a newly selected Honorary Member of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), the organization's highest honor.
She joins two other Honorary Member recipients this year: Walter Soares Leal, UC Davis distinguished professor with the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology), and research entomologist Alvin Simmons of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. (See UC Davis news story)
Keena, an international expert on the biology and behavior of the spongy moth (formerly known as the gypsy moth) and the Asian longhorned beetle, focuses her research on “developing the knowledge and tools needed for exclusion, eradication or control of non-native invasive forest pests and investigating basic biology, behavior, and population genetics,” according to the ESA officials who announced her Honorary Membership. "Honorary Membership recognizes extraordinary service by ESA members who have had significant involvement in the affairs of the Society for at least 20 years."
Keena may be the first Honorary Member to receive all three degrees in entomology from UC Davis: a bachelor's degree obtained in 1983, a master's, 1985, and a doctorate in 1988. Professor Jeff Granett served as her major professor for both her graduate degrees.
Keena initially chose to attend UC Davis because of its renowned School of Veterinary Medicine. An entomology course changed her plans. "I had taken a non-majors entomology class and liked it, so I took the first majors course and told myself that if I got an A in it that would be my major. Then I did work study, helping in entomology labs so I was exposed to research. That led me to do the masters to see if research was for me. Obviously, I got hooked on entomology."
At UC Davis, Keena worked on spider mite pesticide resistance management in the almond cropping system. After receiving her doctorate, she headed to Connecticut as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Connecticut. She's served as a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Hamden since 1992 and is now the lead scientist in the lab.
So, what sparked Melody Keena's initial interest in entomology? Fence lizards!
“They eat live insects so I had to find them,” said Keena, who was born in the Los Angeles area but moved at age 4 to Chico and then to Paradise as a teenager. “We fed them any insects we could find, since store-bought were too expensive. We fed them mostly crickets and grasshoppers. I also reared some mealworms at home for the winter.”
In a letter of support for her Honorary Member nomination, Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor, president of ESA in 2014, and an Honorary Member of ESA since 2021, said he has known Keena since 1983 when she "became a graduate student at UC Davis." He also served with her on a number of ESA committees.
"Melody is an internationally known researcher on biology and control of non-native forest insect pests with the US Forest Service, and has gained a number of significant accolades for her research and leadership," Zalom wrote. "Her CV illustrates the breadth and quality of her journal articles that present important biological studies of many of the most notorious invasive forest insects in North America this century. What sets Melody apart from other outstanding entomology researchers in my experience is the quantity, quality and impact of her service to our Society over her almost 40 years as an ESA member." (Read her accomplishments on Department of Entomology and Nematology website).
ESA has now singled out six UC Davis faculty members as recipients of its highest award:
- 2022: UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal
- 2021: UC Davis distinguished professor Frank Zalom
- 2001: Professor John Edman
- 1996: Professor Bruce Eldridge
- 1993: Professor and 1984 ESA President Donald MacLean (1928-2014)
- 1990: Professor Harry Lange (1912-2004)
Melody Keena may be in a class by herself. And that could be music to the Aggie Nation! Nobody else on the Honorary Member list appears to have received three entomology degrees from UC Davis.
Leal and Simmons, the "twin brothers," co-chaired the 2016 International Congress of Entomology conference, “Entomology Without Borders,” held in Orlando, Florida, that drew nearly 7000 attendees from 101 countries. It was the largest gathering of entomologists in the history of insect science.
"Honorary Member" is the highest award offered by the 7000-member ESA. The recipients must have "served ESA for at least 20 years through significant involvement in the affairs of the society that has reached an extraordinary level,” ESA officials said in announcing the three recipients today (Aug. 24). “Candidates for this honor are selected by the ESA Governing Board and then voted on by the ESA membership.”
Keena's UC Davis connections: she received three UC Davis degrees in entomology: her bachelor's degree in 1983; her master's in 1985, and her doctorate in 1988. (See her website.)
The trio will be recognized during the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia, Nov. 13-16, in Vancouver.
Leal is the sixth UC Davis faculty member to be named an Honorary Member of ESA. UC Davis distinguished professor Frank Zalom of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the 2014 president of ESA, achieved the honor in 2021. Professor W. Harry Lange (1912-2004) received the award in 1990; Professor Donald MacLean (1928-2014), the 1984 ESA president, won the award in 1993; Professor Bruce Eldridge in 1996, and Professor John Edman in 2001.
Leal, an expert in insect communication, investigates how insects detect odors, connect and communicate within their species; and detect host and non-host plant matter. His research, spanning three decades, targets insects that carry mosquito-borne diseases as well as agricultural pests that damage and destroy crops. He and his lab drew international attention with their discovery of the mode of action of DEET, the gold standard of insect repellents.
Leal was recently elected chair of the International Congress of Entomology Council, which selects a country to host the congress every four years and which supports the continuity of the international congresses of entomology. Leal succeeds prominent entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, editor-in-chief of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and a 2014 recipient of the National Medal of Science.
“I have big shoes to fill,” he said. (See news story)
As a leading global scientist and inventor in the field of insect olfaction and communication, Leal was named a 2019 Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) for his impact in the fields of molecular, cellular biology, and entomology.
Highly honored by his peers, Leal is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society (2015) and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005), ESA (2009), and California Academy of Sciences (2015). He received both the Medal of Achievement (1995) and the Medal of Science (2008) from the Entomological Society of Brazil and the 1998 Gakkaisho from the Japanese Society of Applied Entomology and Zoology. In 2019, ESA selected him to deliver the Founders' Memorial Lecture on "Tom Eisner: An Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence."
The International Society of Chemical Ecology honored him with its Silverstein-Simeone Award (2007) and the Silver Medal (2012). In 2012, Leal was elected to the Brazilian Academy of Science (inducted in 2013). For his creativity in entomology, Leal received ESA's Nan Yao Su Award (2011) and was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (2019). The UC Davis Academic Senate awarded him both the Distinguished Teaching Award (2020) and the Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award (2022).
Leal, a leading global scientist and inventor in the field of insect olfaction and communication and known for his impact in the fields of molecular, cellular biology and enotmology, received his medal at a June ceremony in Phoenix.
NIA selected him an NAI Fellow in 2019. However, the COVID pandemic cancelled the 2019 ceremony in Phoenix. Then in 2020, travel restrictions interfered with his plans to attend the Tampa, Fla., ceremony. Elected Fellows are required to attend the induction ceremony within two years of election in order to receive their award.
Leal attended the ceremony with his wife, Beatriz; daughter Helena; and son Gabriel. Both have co-authored papers in the Leal lab, "so they represent all visiting scholars, collaborators, postdocs, project scientists, graduate students, and undergraduate students in my lab," he commented. (See video of the awarding of the medals)
NAI singles out outstanding inventors for their “highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and welfare of society.” Election to NAI Fellow is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors. The NAI Fellow program has 1,403 Fellows worldwide representing more than 250 prestigious universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes.
Leal is the second faculty member affiliated with the Department of Entomology and Nematology to be selected an NAI fellow. Distinguished professor Bruce Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, received the honor in 2014.
Leal, an expert in insect communication investigates how insects detect odors, connect and communicate within their species; and detect host and non-host plant matter. His research, spanning three decades, targets insects that carry mosquito-borne diseases as well as agricultural pests that damage and destroy crops. He and his lab drew international attention with their discovery of the mode of action of DEET, the gold standard of insect repellents.
He and his collaborators, including Nobel Laureate Kurth Wuthrich (Chemistry 2002), unravel how pheromones are carried by pheromone-binding proteins, precisely delivered to odorant receptors, and finally activated by pheromone-degrading enzymes.
That led to Leal's identification of the sex pheromones of the navel orangeworm (Amyelois transitella), a pest of almonds, figs, pomegranates and walnuts, the major hosts. This has led to practical applications of pest management techniques in the fields.
At the time of his election to NAI Fellow, Joe Rominiecki, communications manager of Entomological Society of America (ESA), said Leal has “greatly advanced scientific understanding of insect olfaction. He has identified and synthesized several insect pheromones, and his collaborative efforts led to the first structure of an insect pheromone-binding protein."
ICE Council. Leal was recently elected chair of the International Congress of Entomology Council, which selects a country to host the congress every four years and which supports the continuity of the international congresses of entomology. Leal succeeds prominent entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, editor-in-chief of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and a 2014 recipient of the National Medal of Science.
“I have big shoes to fill,” he said.
Leal's name is currently on the ESA ballot to become an Honorary Member, the highest ESA honor. The Royal Entomological Society named him an Honorary Fellow in 2015.
A native of Brazil, educated in Brazil and Japan, and fluent in Portuguese, Japanese and English, Leal received his master's degree and doctorate in Japan: his master's degree at Mie University in 1987, and his doctorate in applied biochemistry at Tsukuba University in 1990. Leal then conducted research for 10 years at Japan's National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Science and the Japan Science and Technology Agency before joining the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 2000. He chaired the department from July 2006 to February 2008.
Leal co-chaired 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.
Among his many other honors, Leal is a Fellow of ESA, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the California Academy of Sciences. He is a past president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology and corresponding member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. In 2019, ESA selected him to present its annual Founders' Memorial Lecture, the first UC Davis scientist selected to do so.
This year Leal received the UC Davis Academic Senate's Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award for his series of four global webinars educating the public about COVID-19. The online symposiums drew more than 6000 viewers from 35 countries. Hammock, who nominated Leal for the award, praised his “extraordinary spirit of public service and selflessness in creating, organizing, and moderating a series of four COVID-19 symposiums at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He spearheaded public awareness, helped educate the public, eased concerns, and translated the scientific data into lay language. His symposiums drew global attention and brought prestige to UC Davis. It was a crucial time in our history.”
In addition to research and public service, teaching is another of Leal's passions. The UC Davis Academic Senate selected him for its 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Teaching, and the College of Biological Sciences singled him out for its 2022 Faculty Teaching Award.
"I don't teach because I have to," Leal recently said. "I teach because it is a joy to light the way and to spark the fire of knowledge."
If you're a postdoctoral researcher, it's not every day you get to present your work at an international symposium.
And it's not every day that a veteran professor seeks out "rising stars" to participate in that international symposium.
Congrats to postdoctoral researcher Amber Crowley-Gall of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, selected as one of the rising stars featured in an international symposium on “The Frontiers in Chemical Ecology,” part of the Aug. 8-12 joint meeting of the International Society of Chemical Ecology (ISCE) and the Asia-Pacific Association of Chemical Ecologists (APACE) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Crowley-Gall, a two-year USDA-NIFA (U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture) postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of associate professor and community ecologist Rachel Vannette, will present "Olfactory Variation Among Closely Related Cactophilic Drosophila Species," a collaborative project with her doctoral dissertation advisor, Professor Stephanie Rollmann of the University of Cincinnati.
“I am very excited about the opportunity to participate in this symposium,” said Crowley-Gall, who holds a doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Cincinnati (2019), and a bachelor's degree in biological sciences, magna cum laude, from Wright State University (2012).
UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is organizing and producing the hybrid (in-person and virtual) symposium.
Others to be spotlighted in the Frontiers symposium: postdoctoral fellows Rick Fandino of Cornell University and Ani Agnihotri of Murdoch University; soon-to-be-assistant professor Dan Peach of the University of Georgia; associate professors Mengbo Guo of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Zain Syed of the University of Kentucky (formerly of the Walter Leal lab, UC Davis) and Karen Menuz of the University of Connecticut; and professor Chen-Zhu Wang, of the Chinese Academy Sciences.
"I am grateful for this opportunity to present my research and network with other chemical ecologists around the world," said postdoctoral scholar Rick Fandino, a research associate at Cornell University's Department of Ecology and Evolution. "As a first-generation U.S. American Latinx these opportunities are critical to advance in highly competitive and underrepresented STEM fields."
“It's incredibly supportive of Walter to use his standing in the field to help elevate early career researchers," said selected participant Greg Pask, an assistant professor of biology, Middlebury College, Vermont. "And I'm excited to hear about the exciting research from this generation of chemical ecologists.” (For more on the invited speakers, access this short video at https://youtu.be/liy9HpKTmOo)
Managing Sustainability in Challenging Times. The ISCE-APACE joint meeting, themed “Managing Sustainability in Challenging Times,” will include 15 plenary, 15 symposia, as well as invited lectures. Among the lectures is the inaugural Wittko Francke Daaks-Chemicals Memorial Lecture, sponsored by Wittko Francke's Daaks-Chemicals Fund. ISCE promotes the understanding of interactions between organisms and their environment that are mediated by naturally occurring chemicals.
"Chemical cues are important for a wide range of tasks such as host plant identification and localization, oviposition site selection, and mate recognition," she explains in the abstract of the paper, co-authored by Stephanie Rollmann, John Layne, Aaron Hamrick, Lucinda Lawson, all of the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnnati. "Insects use volatile cues emitted from plants when navigating toward an appropriate host and divergence in odor detection has been shown to result in shifts in host use between populations and in some cases reproductive isolation between populations and eventual speciation. A comparative phylogenetic approach can determine whether variation in the olfactory system is linked to shifts in host plant use and is a means to determine the influence of olfactory tuning on divergence between species.
Useful Model. "A useful model to examine this is the Drosophila repleta species group, a radiation of flies specializing on cacti, that exhibits three types of host use: 1) Opuntia specialists, 2) columnar specialists, and 3) “generalists” on both. Opuntia, a flat leaf cactus, is hypothesized to be the ancestral host, and the use of the more chemically complex columnar cactus is believed to be an acquired trait. Columnar cacti contain elevated levels of secondary compounds that can be toxic to flies and affect the volatile headspace flies are exposed to when choosing a suitable host plant. This study examined the extent to which odor tuning has diverged along with the repeated shifts in host plants within the Drosophila repleta species group. We characterized odor response profiles from select sensillar subtypes across multiple species within the repletagroup as well as the outgroup D. melanogaster. Variation in both sensitivity and specificity to odors was observed, with some ORNs exhibiting variation associated with host cactus use. This study is the first in-depth analysis of the olfactory system across the repleta group and provides the opportunity to test for conserved mechanisms in the olfactory system underlying divergence and host shift."
Leal, widely known for his research, teaching, mentoring and public service, won the 2022 Academic Senate's Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award for his outstanding series of webinars educating the public about COVID-19. His four online or virtual symposiums drew more than 6000 viewers from 35 countries. And just recently, he was named the UC Davis College of Biological Science's Faculty Teaching Award.
Leal is an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, American Association for the Advancement of Science, California Academy of Sciences, Royal Entomological Society and the Entomological Society of America (ESA). The UC Davis Academic Senate named him the recipient of its 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Teaching, and the Pacific Branch of ESA presented him with its 2020 Award of Excellent in Teaching.
The public can sign up for the free-access webinar, sponsored by Bedoukian Research, Inc., here: https://bit.ly/3PeXJhu