If you're the kin of Emily Bick, you take her to the Broadway stage musical, Beetlejuice, in New York City. They knew she'd be interested because (1) she's an entomologist (2) she enjoys entomology-themed shows and (3) she previously reviewed another play, “An Entomologist's Love Story,” which Entomological Society of America (ESA) published on its Entomology Today website. That piece drew rave reviews.
So, in keeping with her newly acquired “entomological theater critic credentials,” Bick reviewed Beetlejuice. Entomology Today published her piece today (Sept. 20.)
“I entered the experience knowing little about the shop but with high hopes for its entomological potential since its name appeared to reference Order Coleoptera's common name,” wrote Bick, an agricultural entomologist who will begin a postdoctoral position at the University of Copenhagen this fall.
She began with: “Like a caterpillar recently exposed to juvenile hormone, the insect-themed potential for the musical Beetlejuice was high but never quite metamorphosized.”
Bick noted there were several entomological references, including “two Scarabaeidae camouflaged within the black and white stripes” on the playbook cover.
“While writers opted for entomology appropriate spelling in both the title and song, the stage curtain listed the name as Betelgeuse,” she wrote. “This entomologically named character mentions a few throw away references to insects including describing his alarming goal of house haunting—by saying ‘frightened as a fly.'”
One character “was threatened with having teeth transformed into scorpions—an arthropod but not an insect,” Bick pointed out. “The demon-transformed house was decorated with chairs the spitting image of Tortoise beetle larvae (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae, tribe: Cassidini) and a statue that reminded me of many immature Lepidopterans.”
“However, insect references were always used to enhance the macabre theme, rather than as an independent topic. The musical was about death, a subject of which insects have a long association with. This association is likely due to the progression of insect colonization on an animal corpse—a process so predictable, forensic entomology is often used to determine the time of death of the recently deceased. Their correlation was expanded in the era of sideshows which featured insects as bizarre. I found myself wistfully thinking of all the places insects could be used (e.g., every reference to decomposing), rather than simply propping up the ghoulish atmosphere.”
Although the show lacked insect credibility, she found the show incredible. “It was hilarious, clever, attuned to the times, and visually stunning, and the ‘goth' character Lydia (played by 18-year-old Sophia Anne Caruso) completely stole the show. Yet, judged on entomological criterion, Beetlejuice fell short of its potential.”
The Broadway stage musical is based on the film, Beetlejuice, the 1988 American fantasy-comedy-horror film directed by Tim Burton (Pee Wee's Big Adventure). It is about "a deceased couple who try to haunt the new inhabitants of their former home and call for help from a devious bio-exorcist ghost named Betelgeuse (pronounced "Beetlejuice"), who is summoned by saying his name three times," according to Wikipedia.
Bick holds three degrees in entomology: a bachelor's degree from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and a master's degree and doctorate from UC Davis. She is a Board Certified Entomologist (with specialties in plant-insect and medical and veterinary entomology), awarded by ESA. While at UC Davis, she was active in the Linnaean Games and helped two teams win national championships. ESA describes the Linnaean Games as "a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams."
(Entomologist-theatre critic Bick may be reached at email@example.com.)
Bee scientist James Nieh, a UC San Diego professor in the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences, will present the first fall quarter seminar hosted by UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Nieh will speak on "Animal Information Warfare: How Sophisticated Communications May Arise from the Race to Find an Advantage in a Deadly Game Between Honey Bees and Their Predators" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25 in 122 Briggs Hall. Brian Johnson, associate professor of entomology, is the host.
"In addition to the classical arm race that has evolved between predators and prey, information races also occur, which can lead to the evolution of sophisticated animal communication," Nieh says in his abstract. "Such information can shape the food web and contribute to the evolution of remarkable communication strategies, including eavesdropping, referential signaling and communication within and between species, including between predators and prey."
"I focus on the world of information exchange (acoustic, olfactory and visual) that has co-evolved between Asian honey bees (Apis cerana, A. florea, and A. dorsata) and their predators, the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina and V. mandarinia)," Nieh says. "I will explore how and why such information races occur through the remarkable examples provided by these high social insects."
He presented a TED talk on "Bees and Us: an Ancient and Future Symbiosis" in July 2019.
A native of Taiwan, Nieh grew up in Southern California and received his bachelor's degree in organismic and evolutionary biology in 1991 from Harvard University, Cambridge, and his doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., in 1997. He subsequently received an NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellowship to study at the University of Würzburg in German. A Harvard junior fellowship followed.
Nieh joined the faculty of the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution in 1997 as an assistant professor, advancing to associate professor in 2007 and professor in 2009. He served as vice chair of the section from 2009 to 2014, and as chair from 2014 to 2017.
His latest co-authored research, published in the journal Chemosphere in 2019, is titled Combined Nutritional Stress and a New Systemic Pesticide (flupyradifurone, Sivanto®) Reduce Bee Survival, Food Consumption, Flight Success, and Thermoregulation.
In humans, the disease is commonly known as sleeping sickness: the parasite invades the central nervous system and disrupts the sleep cycle. If not treated, the disease can result in progressive mental deterioration, coma, systemic organ failure and death.
The newly published research in the journal Genome Biology compares and analyzes the genomes of six species of tsetse flies and could lead to better insights into disease prevention and control. “It was a behemoth project, spanning six to seven years,” said Attardo, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology. “This project represents the combined efforts of a consortium of 56 researchers throughout the United States, Europe, Africa and China.”
Tsetse flies, Glossina sp., are of great medical and economic importance, wrote Attardo and co-authors Adly M. M. Abd-Alla of the Insect Pest Control Laboratory, Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Vienna, Austria, and Serap Aksoy of the Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Conn. They related that since the implementation of surveillance and record-keeping in the 20th century, “millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa” have died from sleeping sickness.
Tsetse flies, which resemble house flies, are distinguished from other Diptera by unique adaptations, including lactation and the birthing of live young, a vertebrate blood-specific diet by both sexes, and obligate bacterial symbiosis. The scientists targeted six Glossina genomes representing three sub-genera: Morsitans (G. morsitans morsitans, G. pallidipes, G. austeni), Palpalis (G. palpalis, G. fuscipes), and Fusca (G. brevipalpis) which represent different habitats, host preferences, and vectorial capacity.
“The aim of these studies,” the authors wrote, “was to generate and mine the genomic sequences of six species of tsetse flies with different ecological niches, host preferences, and vectorial capacities. The goals of the analyses performed here are to identify the novel genetic features specific to tsetse flies and to characterize the differences between the Glossina species to correlate the genetic changes with phenotypic differences in these divergent species.”
“Expanded genomic discoveries reveal the genetics underlying Glossina biology and provide a rich body of knowledge for basic science and disease control,” the scientists concluded. “They also provide insight into the evolutionary biology underlying novel adaptations and are relevant to applied aspects of vector control such as trap design and discovery of novel pest and disease control strategies.”
Attardo, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2017 after serving 13 years with the Yale School of Public Health, said the massive research project involved “the complete sequencing and assembly of six Glossina species, including the two primary vectors of human African tryapnosomiasis, three major vectors of animal trypanosomiasis and one ancestral tsetse species which demonstrates some resistance to the species of trypanosomes responsible for human and some animal forms of the disease.”
The research, titled "Comparative Genomic Analysis of Six Glossina Genomes, Vectors of African Trypanosomes," offers:
- A clearer definition of the Glossina phylogenetic tree and placement of a controversial species.
- Identification of rapidly evolving regions of the tsetse genome relative to Drosophila.
- Identification of Glossina specific genes and their functions as well as expansions and contractions of gene families in tsetse relative to other flies.
“We discuss the functional implications of these changes and how they relate to tsetses' physiological adaptations and evolutionary history,” Attardo noted.
“We discovered that the rhodopsin gene family which is associated with vision/color detection shows conservation in motion detection and tracking associated genes.” Attardo said. “However, the gene coding for the protein that detects blue wavelengths is divergent relative to houseflies and shows the highest variance between Glossina species of all the rhodopsin genes. This is significant as the color blue is used as an attractant to bring tsetse into the traps used for control. It suggests that different species may be tuned/attracted to different wavelengths of blue.”
They also analyzed the genes associated with tsetse immunity and the relative differences in comparison with houseflies and fruit flies. “We see many immune genes missing in Glossina and increased copy numbers of genes associated with negative regulation of immune function. We think this may be associated with the evolution of obligate symbiosis as a way to protect their symbionts.”
“We also found extreme conservation of milk proteins between all sequenced species,” the UC Davis medical entomologist said. “On the flip side, male reproductive proteins (seminal proteins) appear to be very rapidly evolving relative to the rest of the genome. The copy numbers of these genes also change significantly between species.”
The scientists also found an overall reduction of olfactory associated genes and protein modifications specific to salivary proteins in the two species that vector human trypanosomiasis.
In 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 60 million people were at risk of sleeping sickness, with an estimated 300,000 new cases per year in Africa, and fewer than 30,000 cases diagnosed and treated. Due to increased control, only 3796 cases were reported in 2014, with less than 15,000 estimated cases, according to WHO statistics.
The parasitic disease “mostly affects poor populations living in remote rural areas of Africa,” according to WHO. “Untreated, it is usually fatal. Travelers also risk becoming infected if they venture through regions where the insect is common. Generally, the disease is not found in urban areas, although cases have been reported in suburban areas of big cities in some disease endemic countries.”
Several National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, awarded to Attardo and Aksoy, funded the research. They also drew funding from the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine; the National Research Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the Slovak Research and Development Agency.
Lynn Kimsey (firstname.lastname@example.org), director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, is coordinating the event, with Professor Neal Williams assisting.
Thorp, 85, passed away Friday, June 7 at this home in Davis. He would have been 86 on Aug. 26.
Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death.
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Thorp was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
“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. “His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.
Said Kimsey: "Robbin had a long, well-respected career in pollination biology and bee taxonomy, but when he retired, he became even more engaged. He became the go-to person for everyone working on pollination in the western states. Many careers were made with his assistance."
"I've known Robbin since I was a graduate student at UC Davis," Kimsey said. "Even though he wasn't my major professor, my project was on bees and he was incredibly helpful and supportive. His enthusiasm about pollinators and bees in particular actually grew after he retired, and he continued helping students and researchers and was the backbone of so much research. His support and kindness was matched by his undemanding assistance and expertise. What a terrible loss to his family and to the research and conservation communities."
In his retirement, Thorp co-authored two books Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014). Locally, he was active in research projects and open houses at the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden on Bee Biology Road operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He detected and identified more than 80 species of bees in the haven.
Born Aug. 26, 1933 in Benton Harbor, Mich., Thorp received his bachelor of science degree in zoology (1955) and his master's degree in zoology (1957) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He earned his doctorate in entomology in 1964 from UC Berkeley, the same year he joined the UC Davis entomology faculty. He taught courses from 1970 to 2006 on insect classification, general entomology, natural history of insects, field entomology, California insect diversity, and pollination ecology.
Every summer from 2002 to 2018, Thorp volunteered his time and expertise to teach at The Bee Course, an annual workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The intensive 9-day workshop, considered the world's premiere native bee biology and taxonomic course, is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists.
Highly honored by his peers, Thorp was named a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco in 1986; recipient of the Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship of UC Davis in 2010; and recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2015. Other honors included: member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won PBESA's Team Award in 2013. In addition, he was a past president (2010-2011) of the Davis Botanical Society, and former chair (1992-2011) of the Advisory Committee for the Jepson Prairie Reserve, UC Davis/Natural Reserve System.
Professor Neal Williams, who organized a symposium in Dr. Thorp's honor at the 2019 Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) meeting in San Diego, said: ‘Through his tireless efforts in research, advocacy and education, he has inspired a new generation of bee researchers…I like many others, feel truly honored, to have received the mentoring of Robbin and to have him as a colleague.”
Williams said the PBESA symposium was “perhaps the greatest honor one can receive from close colleagues--a special symposium honoring him and his contributions to the field of bee biology and pollination. We designed the symposium to honor the impact of Dr. Thorp, on the field of bee biology and conservation, but at the same time present innovative research that brings together bee and pollination biology researchers."
An authority on the critically imperiled Franklin's bumble bee, Bombus franklini, Thorp began monitoring the bumble bee population in 1998 in its narrow distribution range of southern Oregon and northern California. He had not seen it since 2006 and was instrumental in placing the bee on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). He was the former regional co-chair of the North America IUCN Bumblebee Specialist Group.
In August of 2016 a documentary crew from CNN, headed by John Sutter, followed Thorp to a meadow where Thorp last saw Franklin's bumble bee. Sutter wrote about Thorp, then 82, in a piece he titled "The Old Man and the Bee," a spinoff of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
Those who plan to attend the celebration of life, may make reservations at https://bit.ly/2lLG20E.
Coordinated by assistant professor and community ecologist Rachel Vannette, the seminars will take place at 4:10 p.m., every Wednesday in Room 122 of Briggs Hall through Dec. 5 except on Nov. 20 (no seminar due to the Entomological Society of America meeting in St. Louis, Mo).
James Nieh, professor, Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Department of Biological Sciences, UC San Diego
Topic: "Animal Information Warfare: How Sophisticated Communication May Arise from the Race to Find an Advantage in a Deadly Game Between Honey Bees and their Predators" (See lab website)
Host: Brian Johnson, associate professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
Nathan Schroeder, assistant professor, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Topic: "Stem Cells and Neurobiology of Nematodes"
Host: Shahid Saddique, assistant professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
John Mola, doctoral candidate, Neal Williams lab, Graduate Group in Ecology
Exit seminar: "Bumble Bee Movement Ecology and Response to Wildfire." Mola specializes in bee biology, pollinator ecology and population genetics.
Host: Neal Williams, professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
Rebecca Irwin, professor of applied ecology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
Topic: "The Role of Floral Traits in Pollination and Bee Disease Transmission." She specializes in the ecology and evolution of multiple-species interactions, pollination biology, and species invasions
Host: Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
Julián Hillyer, director of the program in career development and associate professor of biological sciences, Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation, Nashville, Tenn.
Topic: "Not So Heartless: Functional Integration of the Immune and Circulatory Systems of Mosquitoes"
Host: Olivia Winokur, graduate student, Chris Barker lab
Takato Imaizumi, professor, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle
Topic: Circadian Timing Mechanisms in Plant-Pollinator Interaction"
Host: Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology
Brock Harpur, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, Purdue University
Topic: "Caste Differentiation in Honey Bees from the Bottom Up"
Host: Santiago Ramirez, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences
Allison Hansen, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, UC Riverside
Topic: Insect Herbivore-Microbe Interactions
Host: Clare Casteeel, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology
No seminar (meeting of Entomological Society of America in St. Louis, Mo.)
Jackson Audley, doctoral candidate, Louie Yang and Steve Seybold labs
Exit seminar (topic to be announced). Audley studies the walnut twig beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis, which in association with the fungus, Geosmithia morbida, causes the insect-pathogen complex known as thousand cankers disease.)
Host: Steve Seybold, lecturer, forest entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and forest entomologist and chemical ecologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Davis
More information on the fall seminars or schedule is available from Vannette at email@example.com.