ARS helped compile a new interactive, image-based online resource to identify wasps in superfamily Cynipoidea, which includes many of the parasitoid wasps. Click the image for more information about it.
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By Jan Suszkiw
August 19, 2015
Determining the identity of parasitic wasps—some measuring less than a millimeter long—can be a time-consuming process that includes comparing their features to descriptions in published works and disparate specimen collections. Now, the same task could begin with the click of a mouse, thanks to an international team of researchers, including one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The team has published (ZooKeys, April 2015) a new online document called a â€oemonographâ€ that consolidates the latest information on the wasp superfamily Cynipoidea. The monograph uses pairs of interactive, image-based identification keys—including those of wing shape, body segmentation and other characteristics—to help users navigate to the correct genus or species of the wasp of interest, along with available biological, geographic and other information about the insect, including locations of existing specimens.
Cynipoid wasps are critical components of natural and agricultural ecosystems, attacking the larval stages of pest flies, such as leaf-mining flies and fruit flies, according to Matt Buffington, a team member and entomologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Serviceâ€™s (ARS) Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Washington, DC.
The monograph focuses on species from the Afrotropical Region, an area encompassing all of Africa south of the Sahara Desert as well as the southern Arabian Peninsula, Madagascar and surrounding islands. The monograph will not only make it easier to identify and categorize new species as theyâ€™re discovered, but it will also broaden scientific understanding of their taxonomic associations and biological diversity. This could prove especially important in identifying wasp species that have potential as biological control agents, such as those that parasitize crop-damaging flies.
You can read more about their research in the August issue of AgResearch. ARS is USDAâ€™s principal intramural scientific research agency.
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By Kim Kaplan
August 18, 2015
"Insect Herbivore Pest Management with Chemical Ecology" is the subject of James H. Tumlinson's 2015 ARS Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lecture, which he delivered today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) annual meeting in Boston.
Tumlinson, Ralph O. Mumma professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University and a member of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Science Hall of Fame, is internationally recognized for his work on pheromones, insect chemical communication, and plant signaling and defenses, especially in insects that are pests of row crops. His research has had important impacts in insect pest management and the development of sustainable, environmentally safe pest management programs.
The Lecture was established in 1981 by ARS to honor the memory of Sterling B. Hendricks and to recognize scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the chemical science of agriculture. Hendricks contributed to many diverse scientific disciplines, including soil science, mineralogy, agronomy, plant physiology, geology and chemistry.
Tumlinson is known for identifying insect pheromones and other semiochemicals, including the boll weevil pheromone, a key component of the boll weevil eradication program. He has also increased our understanding and knowledge of the biochemical mechanisms by which chemical signals are produced and released by insects, and the behavioral responses, including learned responses, of insects to chemical cues.
Most recently, he has been investigating the interactions among herbivorous insects, their host plants and their natural enemies. In one example, he found that plants damaged by caterpillar feeding can synthesize and release volatile chemicals. Tiny wasps use these released volatiles as cues to locate and parasitize the caterpillars.
Tumlinson summed up his presentation by pointing out that "plants successfully employ a broad array of chemicals to defend against insect herbivores. If we can discover and understand the chemical and biochemical mechanisms used in natural plant defense systems they may be exploited for crop protection from insect pests."
Renowned tomato flavor expert and molecular biologist Harry Klee presented the ARS B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture today at the ASHS annual meeting. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.
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By Kim Kaplan
August 5, 2015
"A Different Approach to Plant Breeding: Integrating Consumers with Genetics" is the title of Harry J. Klee's 2015 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture, which he delivered today at the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) annual conference.
Klee, who is the Lyle C. Dickman chair for plant improvement in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, could be called the trustee of true tomato taste. One of his major accomplishments is establishing a "consumer-assisted" breeding program dedicated to improving tomato flavor.
This program starts with finding out what consumers want in a tomato and then systematically works back from those desires to determine the chemical composition and then the biochemistry that provides it. Ultimately, the aim is to find the genes that control how the plant makes what consumers want.
The B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture series was established in 1968 by ARS to honor the memory of Benjamin Y. Morrison (1891-1966), to recognize scientists who have made outstanding contributions to horticulture and other environmental sciences, to encourage the use of these sciences, and to stress the urgency of preserving and enhancing natural beauty. Morrison was a pioneer in horticulture and the first director of the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC.
Klee's large-scale genomics approaches for improving tomato flavor initially focused on varieties for the home garden market and then expanded into commercial germplasm. He now has access to more than 300 complete tomato genome sequences responsible for aspects of flavor, a number of them are the result of a major collaboration with researchers in China.Klee summed up his presentation by pointing out that "flavor is the most important of consumer traits. Yet it is also the least understood and most difficult challenges for breeding. We seek to understand the underlying chemistry of flavor preferences and turn that knowledge into a molecular toolkit for breeders. Ultimately, the goal is to understand precisely what the consumer wants and deliver that product in a way that drives consumers to adopt healthier diets."
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) principal intramural scientific research agency.