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.”
They are 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).
Both Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist, 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 also will give a second lecture: "Drosophila as an Insect Model" on Sept. 3.
This was the inaugural meeting of the Grand Challenges in Entomology Initiative. ESA is committed to thinking and acting more globally, enhancing its influence by establishing a science policy program, identifying attainable challenges for entomology that could lead to sustainable solutions for some of the world's important insect-based problems, and more effectively communicating what entomologists do to improve the human condition. At the invitation-only Summit, the participants explored “three broad issues of major global importance to which entomology can make a unique and powerful contribution”:
- Sustainable agriculture – global hunger, food security, and natural resources preservation
- Public health related to vector-borne diseases
- Invasive insect species – global trade, biodiversity, and climate change
ESA president May Berenbaum, professor and department head, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Zalom welcomed the crowd.
Zalom co-chaired the Summit with
- Silvia Dorn, professor of applied entomology, ETH Zurich; past president of the Swiss Society of Phytomedicine; and fellow of the ESA, Royal Entomological Society, and International Society of Horticultural Sciences.
- Le Kang, director of the Institute of Zoology and president of Beijing Institutes of Life Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences; current president of the Entomological Society of China; and fellow of ESA and TWAS (formerly Third World Academy of Sciences)
- Antônio R. Panizzi, senior scientist, Embrapa and professor, Federal University at Curitiba; and former president of the Entomological Society of Brazil
- John Pickett, Michael Elliott Distinguished Research Fellow at Rothamsted Research; immediate past president of the Royal Entomological Society; and fellow of ESA and Royal Entomological Society
Introductory comments on behalf of the co-chairs emphasized that “leadership meetings such as this one provide an opportunity for connectivity among the world's entomology societies."
This was the very first International Entomology Leadership Summit at an ICE meeting. It was aimed at connecting leaders from the entomological community worldwide and discussing how entomologists "can make unique and powerful contributions toward solving some of the world's insect-based problems, a goal that can be achieved only through collaborative, international efforts," officials said. The last ICE meeting held in the United States (Washngton, D.C.) took place 40 years ago.
Chemical ecologist Walter Leal, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, co-chaired ICE 2016 with Alvin Simmons, research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS), U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina.
Leal said that 6,682 delegates from 102 countries attended the historical ICE 2016 meeting in Orlando. “Alvin and I were very glad to hear about the level of satisfaction: 87 percent,” Leal said, adding that "we worked very hard to prepare for the Congress and promised it would be a historic event: mission accomplished!”
The distinction recognizes outstanding Senate faculty who have achieved the highest level of scholarship. "These are scholars whose work has been internationally recognized and whose teaching performance is excellent," according to the website.
Leal, former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, serves as a mentor in the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), launched in 2011 and administered by UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members professor Jay Rosenheim, associate professor Louie Yang and assistant professor Joanna Chiu.
RSPIB aims to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research. The annual deadline for undergraduates to apply is April 10.
Leal joins five other current or former faculty members of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology with the “distinguished professor” title: nematologists Howard Ferris and Harry Kaya and entomologists Bruce Hammock, Frank Zalom, Thomas Scott (now emeritus) and James R. Carey. Most are affiliated with RSPIB: Leal, insect physiology; Hammock, insect biochemistry; Zalom, integrated pest management, and Carey, insect demography.
Leal serves as co-chair the International Congress of Entomology (ICE) meeting, to take place Sept. 25-30, 2016 in Orlando, Fla.
Spotlighted are parasitologist and entomologist Shirley Luckhart, professor in the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Medical Microbiology and immunology and the Department of Entomology and Nematology; medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro, professor, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI), UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and an associate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology; virologist Lark Coffey of PMI; and UC Davis post-doctoral researcher Young-Moo Choo of the Leal's lab who discovered a receptor by dissecting mosquitoes' mouthparts and genetically testing them.
The KQED piece, drawing widespread interest, is the work of Gabriela Quirós, coordinator producer of Deep Look, KQED Science.
Luckhart said that the mosquitoes detect body heat and substances called volatile fatty acids. “The volatile fatty acids given off by our skin are quite different," Luckhart told Quirós. "They reflect differences between men and women, even what we've eaten. Those cues are different from person to person. There's probably not one or two. It's the blend that's more or less attractive.”
“Mosquitoes don't find the blood vessel randomly," Leal said, pointing out that the receptors respond to chemicals in the blood.
The receptor that the Leal lab discovered is called 4EP, and may lead to drug companies developing new mosquito repellents. “First they'd need to find a repellent against the receptors," Choo told Quirós. "Then they'd treat people's skin with it. When the mosquito tried to penetrate the skin, it would taste or smell something repulsive and fly away.”
Lanzaro said that the latest malaria statistics--more than 300 million people contracted malaria in 2015, and some 635,000 died--are "probably an underestimate."