One of the greatest mysteries in the field of Evolutionary Biology surrounds the origins of unique morphological structures that have come into existence over evolutionary time. The work of Dr. Mark Rebeiz from the University of Pittsburgh seeks to molecularly characterize the evolutionary changes in developmental mechanisms that control morphology. Using species from the vinegar fly genus Drosophila, Dr. Rebeiz has been able to demonstrate that the emergence of divergent traits, studied through abdominal pigmentation and male genitalia models, are in part the result of changes in the activity of transcription factors and gene regulatory mechanisms during development, rather than the emergence of new genes alone.
Researchers are developing new genomic approaches to detect pathogens and their vectors. These new methods reduce cost, increase sensitivity, and may allow for early detection of new parasites.
Dr. John Cooley focuses his research on the periodical cicada, and uses decades of data to map emergences of this insect. Due to methodological limits and unpredictable environmental changes, historical maps may provide inaccurate information. Dr. Cooley’s current mapping projects based on modern techniques and a better understanding of biology and biogeography are providing new insight into old ideas regarding periodical cicada distribution and emergence dynamics.
Turfgrass landscapes are a major component of our beloved parks, sports fields, golf courses, and historical monuments. Dr. Joesph Roberts, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, is currently investigating the microbial communities present on the turfgrass of the National Mall in Washington D.C.. Dr. Roberts' research is fighting to keep our beautiful landscapes looking like the "American dream" and not like an American wasteland.
Horseshoe crabs (Order: Xiphonsura) were once thought to be a relatively static, unchanging group of organisms. Dr. Lamsdell of the University of West Virginia, however, fundamentally changed the way we view horseshoe crabs through his paleotonoligcal research on their dynamic evolutionary history.
Since 2007, the US has ramped up biofuels production citing reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and decreased dependence on foreign oil as goals. While biofuels can have positive environmental impacts, the rapid increase in corn and soy acreage and intensity has had unintended consequences. As an AAAS fellow at EPA, Dr. Dilip Venugopal studies the impacts of biofuels standards programs.
Congratulations to Dilip Venugopal and Galen Divley on their publication released today in Royal Society Open Science!
Climate change, transgenic corn adoption and field-evolved resistance in corn earworm.
Pests aggravate the agricultural costs of climate change. Understanding climate change interaction with transgenic crops, a key insect pest management strategy, helps minimize agricultural losses. We found that increasing temperature anomaly and its interaction with high Bt acreage probably accelerated Bt resistance development in a major crop pest, corn earworm. Bt resistant corn earworms may spread further given extensive Bt adoption, and their range expansion due to climate change. We highlight the need to incorporate evolutionary processes affected by climate change into Bt resistance management programs, and the challenges posed by climate change for Bt biotechnology based insect pest management.
Check out the full article here.
Dilip Venugopal completed his Ph.D. in the Entomology Department in 2014, co-advised by Drs. William Lamp and Galen Dively. He is now a AAAS Science & Technology Fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.
Congratulations to the recipients of the Fall 2017 Ernest N. Cory Undergraduate Scholarship! This scholarship provides up to $1,000 for undergraduate students each semester who have creatively contributed to Entomology Department research and/or extension efforts. Be sure to check back in the Fall to read more about their research progress!
ABIGAIL TORETSKY, Palmer Lab, Undergraduate Research Assistant
Abigail's early work in the Palmer Lab consisted of sorting laboratory materials, discussing primary literature on wetland hydrology and biogeochemistry with graduate students, and assisting with the construction of field equipment. This work gave her a better understanding of how the lab uses raw field data to draw conclusions about wetland gas flux. This summer, Abigail plans to collect and analyze water samples after a storm from a wetland, nearby streams, and ground water in order to determine possible sources of ion flow into the wetland. Based on differences in the ion concentrations in these different areas, these data will hopefully help define the role of the wetland in the overall watershed.
JESSICA HERNANDEZ, Pick Lab, Undergraduate Research Assistant
While the Pick Lab traditionally uses Drosophila melanogaster to investigate the regulatory genes and pathways that control embryonic development – with an emphasis on pair rule genes – Jessica’s work in the lab focuses on orthologous pair rule genes in Oncopeltus fasciatus, an intermediate germband insect. Under the guidance of Pick Lab postdocs and graduate students, she has been able to isolate a new gene from O. fasciatus using a variety of molecular techniques, including PCR, TA cloning, and DNA sequencing. Ultimately, Jessica would like to attend professional school where she can complete an MD program in Emergency Medicine.
MERVIN CUADERA, Fritz Lab, Undergraduate Research Assistant
Knowing the important role that mosquitos play in disease transmission, Mervin thought working with Dr. Fritz would be both interesting and relevant to greater societal problems. Apart from rearing mosquitoes, Mervin is involved in a study of the effects of blood feeding source on fitness in Culex pipiens and C. molestus. Previous work suggests that C. pipiens prefers avian blood, while C. molestus prefers mammalian blood, leading to the prediction that preferred blood sources confer the highest fitness as measured by the number of eggs produced. Early results suggest that both strains, instead, have higher fitness when feeding on avian blood.
Early on, the Fritz Lab found it hard to count eggs accurately due to significant (and often nauseating) motion under the microscope. Therefore, Mervin suggested that they mount a camera on the scope to improve counting accuracy. The success of this approach has made it standard protocol for this research project.
VICTOR SETTLES, Gruner Lab, Undergraduate Research Assistant
Victor has been impressed by the diversity of insects since he was a child. After taking an entomology course this past spring and reading deeper into the primary literature, he pursued an undergraduate research position in Dr. Dan Gruner’s Lab. He now works under the guidance of Elske Tielens, a Gruner Lab BEES graduate student. His major tasks involve sorting, identifying, and curating arthropod samples from the Hawaiian Islands in order to assist Elske in investigating the effects of invasive predators on canopy insect communities in forests fragmented by lava flows and how these communities assemble over evolutionary time.
Victor hopes to use his experience in the Gruner lab working with dichotomous keys and learning to develop hypotheses about ecology and evolution to build a foundation in research that will ultimately set him on a path towards a career as a Principle Investigator.
Transgenic Bt crops have been a very successful tool for managing various insect pests in field crops. However, like all pest management strategies, they have both pros and cons. Dr. Dominic Reisig, from North Carolina State University, discusses the challenges of managing resistance against Bt crops, using the example of Helicoverpa zea, an important pest of both corn and cotton.
The mechanisms of exactly how mosquitoes locate their human hosts still elude the scientific community. Dr Conor McMeniman’s lab at Johns Hopkins has made advances in understanding the important role that the CO2 we exhale has to play in mosquitoes’ host-finding abilities. With the urgency of the Zika threat looming, understanding its mosquito vectors’ human-finding processes is vital to public health.
Annual emergences of chronomid (non-biting) midges at the subarctic Lake Myvatn in northeastern Iceland are being studied for their interesting effects on arthropod food webs. Understanding the aquatic-terrestrial linkages in the near-shore ecosystems will shed light on the role midges play in the nitrogen cycle.
Ph.D. student, Samuel Ramsey of the vanEngelsdorp Lab took 1st place in the 4th annual 3MT competition on April 5, 2017. After much preparation and making it through the first round of competitions the week prior, he scored the top prize!
Sammy will be awarded $500 and will go on to represent UMD in the International competition in October. Here is some info on the background of the competition but without the winners for this year updated on the site.
Please offer him congratulations when you see him. We are very proud!
Honey bees face a myriad of interacting stress factors including pesticide exposure and poor nutrition in intensive agricultural landscapes. Andrew Garavito spent his masters looking at how these factors interact in real-world landscapes to affect honey bee health. Comparing factors such as pollen diet, pesticide contamination of pollen, and drought stressing of pollen, he gained some interesting insights into what bees face on any given day in the field.
A piece of exciting news to welcome you back from spring break!
Natural threats among the flowers lurk. Dr. T'ai Roulston delves into the somewhat macabre world of bumble bee parasitism by conopid or thick-headed flies.
Tackling challenging and complex questions about ecosystems, Dr. Jamin Dreyer explores how we can better understand natural processes to improve human interactions with the environment.
Ants have been farming for millions of years before humans walked the planet. Learn more about the Sericomyrmex ants that Dr. Ješovnik studies.
"Dr. Arnaud Martin details his research adapting the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system to crustaceans and butterflies, providing further evidence that supports previous findings surrounding the use of genetic tool kits found in all animals."
Dr. Leslie Pick has a new book out through Academic Press publishers titled Fly Models of Human Diseases. More information on her book can be found here. Check out the flyer below for more details!
We live in a world full of signals. We are constantly bombarded with exciting new combinations of light, sound, taste, smell, and texture. Ultimately our brains interpret these sensations to form what we call reality. However, as it turns out, human beings are only able to perceive a small slice of reality: there are many smells which, for better or worse, we can never smell, and we can only see a tiny slice of the colors light has to offer (we refer to this small portion of wavelengths as the “visible spectrum”).
As it turns out, flies do not base their behavior on the smell of the fruit: they base it on the smell of the yeast growing on the fruit. When yeasts are removed from fruit, the flies do not know where to go. Dr. Syed’s team took a sample of yeasts abundant in fruit and associated SWD flies and found that SWD choose certain yeasts over others, but why?
To answer this question, they sampled the odors that were produced by his yeasts using solid-phase microextraction (SPME) to see if they were different. They were in fact different – qualitatively and quantitatively - with each yeast isolate producing a very complex and wide range of odorant repertoire. Approaching the point of despair at interpreting all of his data, a statistician swooped in to save the day. The statistician was able to distinguish between the yeasts based solely on the odors they produce.
Read more about Dr. Syed’s Work
Scheidler, N. H., Liu, C., Hamby, K. A., Zalom, F. G., & Syed, Z. (2015). Volatile codes: Correlation of olfactory signals and reception in Drosophila-yeast chemical communication. Scientific reports, 5, 14059.
Hickner, P. V., Rivaldi, C. L., Johnson, C. M., Siddappaji, M., Raster, G. J., & Syed, Z. (2016). The making of a pest: Insights from the evolution of chemosensory receptor families in a pestiferous and invasive fly, Drosophila suzukii. BMC genomics, 17(1), 648.
About the author:
Brian Lovett is a PhD student in Dr. Raymond St. Leger’s Lab studying mycology and genetics in agricultural and vector biology systems. He is currently working on projects analyzing mycorrhizal interactions in agricultural systems, the transcriptomics of malaria vector mosquitoes, and the genomes of entomopathogenic fungi.
At the first Entomology colloquium of the Spring 2017 semester, Dr. Zain Sayed described his work on the agricultural pest spotted wing drosophila. His work unravels how female flies use odors from yeasts growing on fruit to find their mates.