- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Professor Karl Kjer, newly appointed Schlinger Chair of Systematic Entomology in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a co-founder of an international insect phylogentics team, will deliver one of the 20 “Premier Presentations” at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting, set Nov. 15-18 in Minneapolis.
Kjer, with colleagues from China and Germany, will discuss the 1KITE or the 1000 Insect Transcription Evolution project. This project involved creating a database of transcriptomes or all the genes expressed in an organism. The team developed state-of-the-art methods to analyze genetic data from the DNA of modern insects, and calibrate DNA “clocks” with fossil records. They then used massive super computers to estimate the pattern, and timing of insect evolution.
Following the ESA presentation on “The 1KITE Initiative: Past, Present and Future,” Kjer will be interviewed onsite for a 2-3 minute video that will be posted online.
“By necessity, the project was split into three phases, the first of which, involving the analysis of 1478 genes from 144 species, has been published,” Kjer writes in his ESA abstract. He will discuss the phylogenetic results from this paper. The second phase of the work involved dividing insects into taxonomic divisions, or subprojects, which include dragonflies, grasshoppers and their close relatives, mantids and roaches, true bugs and lice, bees, wasps and ants, beetles, lacewings and their close relatives, flies, caddisflies, and butterflies and moths. These subprojects include data from 1500 species, and 3500-4900 genes. He will discuss the progress on the subprojects.
“Because of the size of these data, we have modified protocols for virtually every step in the analytical pipeline, and these modifications will be discussed,” Kjer noted. “A large number of collaborative spin-off projects involving the development of new methods of analysis, and the molecular mechanisms of insect physiology. Finally, the entire project will be summarized in a book.”
Kjer, who joined UC Davis in July from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N. J., said that the research project reveals that insects originated some 450 million years ago, around the same time as the first plants and that together they shaped the Earth's earliest ecosystem. Insects, such as dragonflies and damselflies, inhabited the earth 150 million years before dinosaurs.
The 100-member research team from 10 countries also discovered that insects first took flight 400 million years ago and were flying 200 million years before any other animal did so.
Their work was featured in a cover story, Nov. 7, 2014, of Science. The team used DNA data from 1400 genes to map out evolutionary relationships among all insect orders, said Kjer, one of three directors of the project. "Using only 10 percent of the data we have in hand, this paper resolved many of the long-standing debates about insect phylogenetics," Kjer said in a Rutgers news release. “Phylogeny forms the foundation for telling us the who, what, when, and why of life. Many previously intractable questions are now resolved, while many of the ‘revolutions' brought about by previous analyses of smaller molecular datasets have contained errors that are now being corrected.”
"Insects did just about everything first," according to Kjer. "They were the first to form social societies, farm, and sing — just about anything you can imagine. Insects are the dominant players in almost all terrestrial ecosytems, and as such, they have a major impact on agriculture and human health.”
Karl Kjer has loved insects since age 3 when he kept a “secret insect collection” in his family's garage in Whapeton, N.D.
But when it came time to choose a career, he narrowed his choices to three: entomologist, medical doctor or music teacher.
In college, Karl double-majored in biology and music, graduating magna cum laude, in 1982 from Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. He taught music at a high school in Coon Rapids, Minn., for a year and then worked as a medical research lab technician in at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, Iowa City, until 1986.
But entomology won. He entered graduate school to pursue his master's degree (1988) and doctorate (1992) in entomology from the University of Minnesota. After postdoctoral work on lizards at Brigham Young University in Utah, he joined the faculty of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., where he served as a professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources and as a co-director of 1KITE. He also curated the Rutgers' insect collection.
Fast forward to 2015.
After an 18-year career at Rutgers, Kjer accepted the position of professor and Schlinger Chair of Systematic Entomology, in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis.
Here, Kjer continues his teaching and research on phylogenetics and the integration of molecular biology and organismal biology. “I just love teaching and learning about insects,” he said. “I have been fascinated with them for as long as I can remember, and want to share this passion with our students at UC Davis. I believe that understanding evolution makes life richer.”
Kjer would also like to use his endowed chair position to talk about science in general, “Support for basic science is dropping,” he said. He is deeply concerned with recent trends in the public marginalization of science. “From conservatives and liberals alike, we are seeing misguided beliefs that ‘vaccines cause autism' or ‘climate change is a hoax' and many other catastrophic falsehoods perpetuated in the blogosphere. If you need heart surgery, consult a heart specialist…not a plumber.”
“If you are over 40,” Kjer said, “you can probably thank your continued existence to science. Science deniers threaten the health and well being of every living thing on the planet, today, and deep into the future.”
Kjer has served as the associate editor of Systematic Biology since 2001. A member of the Society of Systemic Biologists and the Molecular Biology and Evolution Society since 1994 and ESA in 1986, he was elected from 2008 to 2012 to the Systemic Biology Council.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Internationally recognized entomologist and well-known philanthropist Evert Irving Schlinger of Concord, professor emeritus, UC Berkeley Department of Entomological Sciences, passed Wednesday, Oct. 8 in Lafayette, Calif. He was 86.
Dr. Schlinger, who received his undergraduate degree from UC Davis and then his doctorate in entomology in 1957 from the University of California, Berkeley, was a world authority on a very rare, world-distributed group of spider-parasitoid flies of the family Acroceridae. His dissertation, available in the UC Davis Shields Library, was on "A Generic Revision and Catalogue of the Acroceridae (Diptera)."
He collected specimens on 37 insect-spider expeditions in 40 countries. His World Spider-Endoparasitoid Lab, located in Santa Ynez, Calif., was most recently associated with the UC Santa Barbara Department of Biology.
Dr. Schlinger chaired the departments of entomology at UC Riverside and UC Berkeley and initiated a new department at Berkeley called Conservation and Resources Studies."
The philanthropist funded professorships at universities across the U.S. with millions of dollars from his family foundation.
At UC Davis, he and his wife, Marion (now former wife), established the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics in 1996 through gifts from the Schlinger Foundation. It was their aim that the endowed chair would attract and sustain scholars and scientists working in the area of the systematics of insects, as well as arachnids.
Born April 17, 1928 in Los Angeles, Evert or "Ev" as he was known, chose UC Davis as his undergraduate school, where he quarterbacked the football team and ran track. He was a life and charter member of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association.
Dr. Schlinger received a UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' Award of Distinction in 1999. A nominee wrote: "He has been an inspiring teacher, mentor and leader in entomology. Through his research foundation, he provides resources to enliven and enrich the prospects of systematics and biodiversity well into the future."
Michael E. Irwin, professional scientist emeritus from at the Illinois Natural History Survey. emailed members of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology:
"Evert I. Schlinger passed away during the lunar eclipse in the early morning of Wednesday, October 8, 2014. He was a giant of a man in both stature and accomplishment. He fought for advancing science and improving the environment all of his life. He had a laser-like ability to dissect problems and find solutions. He was gentle, caring, yet held strong convictions. His work in the systematics of the small-headed fly family Acroceridae was deep and provided the foundation for future workers; his work in biological control was less known but profoundly influenced the course and development of integrated pest management. Perhaps his greatest gift to science was a cadre of students that have made impacts in many areas of entomology and education. For me, he will always be remembered as my best friend and a great mentor."
Dr. Schlinger is survived by his four children, Pete Schlinger; Mathew (Joanne) Schlinger of Redding; Jane (Brad) Omick of Lafayette, Calif.; Brian (Danelle) Schlinger of Palo Cedro, Caiif; 11 grandchildren; and brother Warren (Katie) of Pasadena, Calif.
His daughter, Jane, said her father "started his career collecting black widows at schools at the age of 9." She recalled that in addition to his love of family and science, he "loved to sing and had a love for opera--he attended the San Francisco Opera performances a lot."
Flipagram, online memory album created by daughter, Jane Omick of Layfayette