Entomology Projects

2024 projects

1. Making mites “less mighty” – exploring biopesticides and biocontrol in the hive environment

Apple production is an important part of upstate New York’s economy and relies heavily on pollinators, particularly honeybees. Unfortunately, Varroa mites pose a major threat to bee populations and are now resistant to many commonly used pesticides. Integrated Pest Management practices aim to replace or reduce chemical usage through incorporating biopesticides and biological control into agricultural settings. With a summer researcher, we will explore eco-friendly solutions such as combining a peptide-based biopesticide and entomopathogenic fungi to control Varroa mites. We plan to track how long these treatments stay in hives to guide how often they should be applied.

Lab: 50%, Field: 50%

Mentors: Petra Hafker, Christophe Duplais

2. Insect behavior 

Understanding insect behavior can be foundational for the development of sustainable pest control techniques. If we understand more about how insects choose between scents or plants, what motivates insects to initiate flight or how their feeding behavior changes with the presence of a predator, it can provide insight to potential new techniques or approaches to limiting the negative effects of pests on target agricultural crops. In this project, the summer scholar will work alongside Rivera lab members to explore different techniques of measuring and assessing insect behavior.

Lab: 90%, Field: 10% 

Mentor: Monique Rivera

3. Changes in insects after a genetic modification of digestive enzymes

Successful herbivory of insects relies on the ability of insects to counteract or adapt to the plant defense chemicals. Insects often have a complex composition of digestive proteases with dynamic regulation to cope with the toxic protease inhibitors produced by plants. The digestive proteases are also involved in the toxicity of bacterial toxins ingested. This study is to dissect the physiological functions of digestive proteases in an herbivorous insect, the cabbage looper Trichoplusia ni, using gene editing to genetically modify the digestive protease profiles in the insect gut. The scholar will participate in our research project to conduct an independent study to analyze the biological, physiological and biochemical changes in the gut of the genetically modified insects under guidance of and in collaboration with lab members.

Lab: 100%; Field: 0%

Mentor: Ping Wang

4. As the worm churns: exploring the impacts of earthworms on soil health in specialty crops

Earthworms are recognized as important ecosystem engineers in agricultural soils. Their tunneling and mixing activities serve to aerate soil, form stable soil aggregates, and incorporate organic matter into the soil profile. Yet, less well known are the impacts earthworms have on the microbial inhabitants of agricultural soils. Current research in our lab is exploring how earthworm activity influences plant and soil health. Our summer scholar will build upon this work by designing and leading experiments to measure the impacts of earthworms on the activities and ecological functioning of different soil fungi including both plant and insect pathogens. The student working on this project will gain experience in a range of tools and procedures from both soil and microbial ecology.

Lab & Greenhouse: 80%, Field: 20%

Mentors: Kyle Wickings, Maryam Chelkha