Selected Current Research Programs
Fire ants (genus Solenopsis) present many fascinating problems in population genetics and evolution and are readily studied in the field and laboratory.
Emerging concepts of low-input, minimum tillage agriculture provide opportunities for students to enter research areas in which conventional techniques are combined with organic methods. Students receive training in entomology, ecology and agriculture.
Biochemistry of Insect-Plant Interactions
Investigations of insects and their host plants are aimed at understanding the strategies evolved by insects to process toxic chemicals produced by plants. Research also focuses on the chemistry and biosynthesis of insect lipids, both wax and polymeric components, which play crucial roles in the water balance of these organisms.
Faculty, particularly those at the two Experiment Stations, investigate traditional kinds of biological control techniques including the use of parasitic insects, predators, and cultural practices that will suppress pest populations or augment beneficial species. In addition, novel kinds of biological control using genetically altered viruses and crop plants engineered to produce Bacillus thuringiensis insecticidal proteins have been developed. These viruses and plants provide new tools for the biological control and pest management program. Greenhouse screening for high yield soybean breeding lines resistant to damage by various leaf-feeding Lepidoptera. A computerized system, based on video digitation of leaf area consumed, is used to compare resistant and susceptible cultivars before evaluating them under field conditions. The chemical basis for resistance is also being investigated.
Over 60% of the State of Georgia is forested, much of it managed for lumber and pulp. Consequently, we have long-term research projects on those insects we consider to be the most important species in the state and the region. Many of these studies have begun with basic research on life histories, natural enemies, pheromone identification, host preferences, etc. and have progressed to the application of this basic information in suppression or incorporation into forest management plans.
Molecular Biology of Insect Pathogens
The molecular aspects of gene organization and the regulation of gene expression in microorganisms (i.e., insect baculoviruses, Bacillus thuringiensis) that cause diseases in insects are being examined. Potential applications include the genetic improvement of insect pathogens as microbial pesticides using recombinant DNA technology for gene transfer and expression. The research also includes studies on the regulation of insect gene expression and the movement of transposable genetic elements of insects.
Neuropeptides are important regulators of physiological processes. Such neuropeptides may prove useful in novel strategies for control of specific pest species. The research focuses on purifying, sequencing, and synthesizing such peptides from insects. As this work progresses, it will be possible, with nucleotide probes and PCR, to recover the gene for a specific neuropeptide and to determine target tissues through studies of the receptors for these regulator peptides.
Pest Management and Applied Entomology
The faculty at the University Experiment Stations conduct basic and applied research directed at efficient management of major pests of agriculture, forestry, and public health. Insect pest problems in Georgia are more intense than in other locations in the United States, and faculty work on a wide diversity of pest problems on a variety of commodities that are grown in many other locations. Research projects vary from developing resistant crops and biological pesticides using genetic technologies to intense field study of insect biology and biological control in diverse agricultural environments. Cooperative interdisciplinary research with other disciplines, e.g., crop and soil sciences, plant pathology, and horticulture are encouraged because of the importance of understanding the insect pest in relation to the physical as well as the biological components of its environment.
Social Insect Biology
Ongoing research programs involve all groups of social insects, from termites, to fire ants, to wasps, to honey bees. Emphasis is on behavior, sociobiology, and chemical integrating mechanisms. The role of pheromones and nutrition in caste determination, allomones in defense, and hormones in development are currently being investigated in various species. Opportunities are available for field studies of behavioral biology in representative tropical and temperate species and for apicultural research involving Africanized honey bees.