- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Leal, a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) is one of 168 distinguished academic inventors who will be inducted April 10 at NAI's ninth annual meeting in Phoenix. The only other UC Davis recipient: Cristina Davis, the Warren and Leta Geidt Endowed Professor and Chair, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
“I am humbled by this honor,” said Leal, who was nominated by UC Davis chancellor emerita Linda Katehi, an NIA fellow inducted in 2012. “To express my sentiment I have to paraphrase my predecessor as president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology, late Professor Thomas Hartmann, who said in our meeting in Prague in 1996: ‘In academia, students, postdocs, and other associates do most of the work and professors received the honors.' I look forward to opportunities to support NAI's mission of promoting innovation and celebrating invention.”
Katehi, now of Texas A&M, where she is a distinguished TEES (Engineering Experiment Station) chair and professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, praised Leal's “novel, sustainable and continued contributions to the field of entomology and for their greater implications in molecular and cellular biology and the understanding of disease and prevention.” Leal holds 28 Japanese and two U.S. patents.
Leal is the second faculty member affiliated with the Department of Entomology to be selected an NIA fellow. Distinguished professor Bruce Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, received the honor in 2014. (See news story.)
Said Hammock: “When Walter Leal reached UC Davis, he came with the reputation of being a 'one man army in research.' This reputation was well deserved. I know of no one at UC Davis who matches Walter in taking his remarkable fundamental advances in science and translating them to increase the safety and magnitude of world food production.”
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. (See the Leal lab's work on DEET in Entomology Today.)
He and his collaborators, including Nobel Laureate Dr. 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.
Leal, a fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), "has greatly advanced scientific understanding of insect olfaction," said Joe Rominiecki, communications manager, Entomological Society of America. "He has identified and synthesized several insect pheromones, and his collaborative efforts led to the first structure of an insect pheromone-binding protein."
'Tangible Impact on Quality of Life'
“The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society,” said NIA director Jayde Stewart. “Election to NAI Fellow is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors. To date, NAI Fellows hold more than 41,500 issued U.S. patents, which have generated over 11,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than 36 million jobs. In addition, over $1.6 trillion in revenue has been generated based on NAI Fellow discoveries.”
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 served as chair of 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.
Leal served as president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology and ESA's Integrative Physiological and Molecular Insect System Section. He co-founded the Asia Pacific Association of Chemical Ecologists and played a key role in founding the Latin American Association of Chemical Ecology.
Among his many other honors, Leal is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the California Academy of Sciences; an honorary fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and an inductee of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. He received a silver medal from the International Society of Chemical Ecology. Leal recently presented the Founders' Memorial Lecture at the ESA meeting in St. Louis, the first UC Davis scientist selected to do so.
“Walter is an amazing person and an amazing scientist,” said Fred Gould, distinguished professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University. “His work has opened new doors to the understanding of how insects receive and perceive odors and has saved farmers in California and Brazil more than $100 million. He's at a point where he could sit back and bask in the glory of his accomplishments, but that is not Walter. He remains as prolific as ever.”
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Hammock joins two other UC Davis scientists in the 170-member Class of 2014 fellows:
- Kyriacos A. Athanasiou, department chair and distinguished professor of biomedical engineering, and the Child Family Professor of Engineering, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
- M. Saif Islam, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and co-director of the Center for Nano and Micro Manufacturing, or CNM2
The new fellows will be inducted March 20 at the NAI's fourth annual conference, to be held at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) Tech, Pasadena. The Deputy U.S. Commissioner for Patent Operations, from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), will preside. The fellows will be presented with a special trophy, medal and rosette pin.
Hammock has made major innovations in multiple fields. Most recently his laboratory found potent enzyme inhibitors that dramatically reduce inflammation, inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain. He is the founder and CEO of EicOsis, and through EicOsis, the compounds are in clinical trials for companion animals and the Pre-Investigational tional New Drug Application (Pre-IND) Consultation Program for neuropathic pain in human diabetics. Hammock is developing both enzyme inhibitors and natural products as drugs for use in the United States and developing countries. In agriculture, his laboratory developed the first recombinant viruses as greeninsecticides, while in environmental chemistry, they pioneered the use of immunodiagnostics for environmental analysis and biosensor development, currently applying alpaca nanobodies to sensor technology.
Hammock is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and the recipient of the Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism, sponsored by the America Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. He directs the campuswide Superfund Research Program, National Institutes of Health Biotechnology Training Program, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Combined Anayltical Laboratory.
A member of the UC Davis faculty since 1980, he received his bachelor of science degree magna cum laude from Louisiana State University in entomology and chemistry, and his doctorate from UC Berkeley in entomology and toxicology, working in xenobiotic metabolism.
Hammock was co-nominated by NAI member Glenn Prestwich of the University of Utah who spent a sabbatical year in entomology at UC Davis. The NAI also recognizes mentoring young scientists in entrepreneurship, an area where Hammock has been very active.
Hammock describes himself as a basic scientist who “sometimes finds something interesting.” He attributes his success to “having wonderful colleagues and students.” He also describes himself as “an avid, if incompetent hiker and climber,” and occasionally teaches white-water kayaking with UC Davis Outdoor Adventures.
NAI was founded in 2010. The total number of NAI fellows is now 414. They represent more than 150 prestigious research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutions.
Included among all of the NAI Fellows are 61 presidents and senior leadership of research universities and non-profit research institutes, 208 members of the other National Academies, 21 inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 16 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, 10 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Science, 21 Nobel Laureates, 11 Lemelson-MIT prize recipients, 107 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and 62 fellows of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, among other awards and distinctions.
Academic inventors and innovators elected to the rank of NAI fellow were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.
In a news release, NAI officials said that election as an NAI fellow “is a high honor bestowed upon academic innovators and inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions and innovations that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.”
Athanasious studies the healing processes of cartilage, and works to augment them via the application of tissue engineering principles. “Our approach entails the use of biodegradable scaffolds designed to incorporate suitable bioactive agents and signals to regenerate cartilage,” his website states. He is the recipient of the Marshal Urist Award for Excellence in Tissue Regeneration Research, the Thomas A. Edison Patent Award and a number of innovation awards.
Islam's research focuses on ultrafast optoelectric devices, molecular electronics, and the integration of semiconductor nanostructures in devices for imaging, sensing, computing and energy conversion. He holds 37 U.S. patents. He is the co-founder of Atocera, the co-founder of Atocera, a start-up that plans to bring its silicon surgical and razor blades to market as a less expensive alternative to ceramic and diamond blades. Atocera is housed in the College of Engineering's incubator — officially known as the Engineering Translational Technology Center.
Chancellor Katehi was elected to NIA in 2012. She holds 19 U.S. patents and was recognized her work as an electrical engineer whose cell phone, radar and antenna circuits are used in signal transmitting, receiving and processing.
Jerry Woodall, distinguished professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was elected in 2013.Woodall is a pioneer in the research and development of compound semiconductor materials and devices. He has collected 85 issued U.S. patents. He is best known for inventing the high-efficiency red LEDs used in remote control and data-link applications such as TV sets and IR LAN, and the super-bright LEDs used in CD players and short link optical fiber communications. Fully half of the world's annual sales of compound semiconductor components have been made possible by his research legacy. Other projects include the “pseudomorphic” high electron mobility transistor (HEMT), a state-of-the-art, high-speed device used in cell phones and satellites; and the weight-efficient solar cell.
(UC Davis News Service contributed to this report.)