Department of Entomology

ISU Entomology / Current Research in Insects and Entomology

Current Research in Insects and Entomology

Current research being carried out in the Entomology Department and USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit at Iowa State University:

Researcher Research topic
Lyric Bartholomay Medical entomology
Jeffrey Beetham Insect-vectored protozoan parasites
Bryony Bonning Novel approaches to insect pest control
Joel Coats Pesticide toxicology
Gregory Courtney Systematics and aquatic entomology
Ken Holscher Livestock and public health pests
Russell Jurenka Pheromone biosynthesis and hydrocarbon characterization
Donald Lewis Urban entomology
Matt O'Neal Soybean entomology
Kristine Schaefer Pest management and the environment
Marlin E. Rice Applied pest management
Jon Tollefson Corn pest management
John VanDyk Extension information technology/Distance education
Richard Hellmich (USDA) Ecology and genetics of corn insect pests
Leslie C. Lewis (USDA) Pathology of corn insect pests
Thomas W. Sappington (USDA) Ecology and behavior of corn insect pests
Brad Coates (USDA) Ecological genetics of corn insect pests



Research involves insects of public health importance, including mosquitoes that transmit arboviruses (including West Nile and LaCrosse encephalitis) and parasites that cause lymphatic filariasis. Projects address pathogen-vector interactions at the organismal and molecular levels to explore factors that control vector competence. Surveillance projects involving mosquito and tick-borne diseases in Iowa will be ongoing.

Project Leader

Lyric Bartholomay - Assistant Professor

Research Associate (P&S)

Brad Tucker. Vector competence of Aedes trivittatus and other flood water mosquitoes for West Nile virus, ecology of West Nile virus in mammals.

Research Assistant (PhD Student)

Grishma Parikh (MCDB). Mosquito-virus molecular interactions.

Research Assistants (MS Students)

Erica Hellmich (Entomology). Mosquito surveillance and molecular determinants of phagocytosis in mosquito cells.

Jon Oliver (Entomology: Jurenka, co-advisor). Ecology of Lyme disease in Iowa, and molecular and physiological determinants of bacteria-tick interactions.

MS Student

Jeff Alfred (Entomology: USDA/NVSL). Developing a key to the myiasis-causing flies in the family Sarcophagidae.



Research focuses upon how insect-vectored protozoan parasites (Leishmania species) regulate genes required for infecting humans, and upon the characterization of host-parasite-vector interactions. Leishmania spp. are sandfly-vectored protozoan parasites that infect mammals and other vertebrates causing a collection of diseases that vary in severity from the self-healing to the potentially fatal. The goals of current research include (1) to determine how Leishmania survive the innate immune response of mammals and specifically to identify genes that confer parasite resistance to serum lysis, and (2) to determine mechanisms by which Leishmania regulate gene and protein expression during development and acquisition of pathogenesis. Leishmania spp. are unusual among eukaryotes in their almost complete reliance on post-transcriptional processes to regulate expression of mRNAs; gene regulation at transcription is extremely rare in these organisms. Furthermore, RNA processing in Leishmania is quite different from that which occurs in most eukaryotes, and molecules that function in RNA processing events (including those events that affect RNA stability) are therefore likely to be very different from the analogous factors of other eukaryotes. Understanding the mechanism by which Leishmania modulate the mRNA abundance of developmentally regulated genes/proteins, or by which the parasites survive innate host immune responses, may identify candidate molecular targets for new disease treatment modalities.

Project Leader

Jeffrey Beetham - Associate Professor

Research Associates (P&S)

Samantha Lei (MCDB/Entomology). Developmental biology of parasites as they progress to an infectious stage that resists lysis by human serum.

Nathan Romine (Genetics). Reverse genetics toward characterizing parasite proteins that influence serum-lysis sensitivity, and biocomputational approach toward identifying unique pathways or unique aspects of pathways in the parasite that might serve as targets for prevention or treatment modalities.



The overarching goal of research conducted in the Bonning lab is to develop novel approaches for management of insect pests or insect-transmitted disease. Several of the research projects involve analysis of insect-virus interaction and exploitation of these molecular interactions for development of new technologies for transgenic insect resistance, or management of insect vectored disease.

Project Leader

Bryony Bonning - Professor

Assistant Scientist (P&S)

Sijun Liu. Soybean aphid transcriptome and virus discovery.

Narinder Pal. Transgenic plant resistance to aphids and other invertebrate pests.

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Nana Chougule. Physiological basis for lack of Bt toxin action against aphids.

Jimena Carrillo-Tripp (co-supervised with W. Allen Miller, Plant Pathology). Use of dicistroviruses for aphid control

Research Assistants (PhD Students)

Diveena Vijayendran (Genetics). The use of RNA interference for pest management; Analysis of small RNAs.

Luke Linz (Microbiology). Aphid-plant virus molecular interaction: Identification of luteovirus receptors in the pea aphid, and luteovirus receptor-binding domains.



The major goals of the Coats laboratory are to educate and train scientists in insect toxicology and environmental toxicology/chemistry of agrichemicals, as well as contribute to the advancement of the science in these areas. (1) The insect toxicology portion of the laboratory is focused primarily on natural products as insecticides and insect repellents, considering modes of action, identification, specificity, metabolism, quantitative structure-activity relationships, and synthesis. (2) The environmental toxicology and chemistry part of the laboratory is focused on the environmental fate and effects of agrichemicals. Current projects include investigations on the environmental fate and effects of conventional pesticides, veterinary antibiotics, Bt protein toxins and vaccines produced by transgenic plants.

Project Leader

Joel Coats - Professor

PhD Student

Keri Henderson (Toxicology Research Fellow: Tom Moorman, USDA, co-advisor). Environmental fate of the veterinary antibiotics tylosin and sulfamethazine, including degradation in soil and water, as well as leaching studies in intact soil columns; methods for assessing bioavailability of the antibiotics in soil and water. Possible impact of the antibiotics on microbial communities in the environment.

Research Assistants (PhD Students)

Dingfei Hu (Toxicology). Environmental fate of monoterpenoid insecticides, including degradation in soil and water, as well as leaching studies in packed soil columns; analytical methodology for detection/quantification of the veterinary antibiotic tylosin, using HPLC, including the cross-reactivity among the factors in ELISA assay.

Gretchen Paluch (Entomology & Toxicology Lab Coordinator: Bartholomay, co-advisor). Identification, characterization, biological activity, and mode of action of botanical insect repellents, especially terpenoids; design of novel insect bioassays and screening techniques.

Fan Tong (Toxicology). The mechanism of action of monoterpenoid insecticides in insects, focused on biochemical neurotoxicological assays; molecular modeling of terpenoids' insecticidal activity.

Research Assistants (MS Students)

Aaron Gross (Toxicology). Isolation, identification, and characterization of natural insecticides and repellents.

Ashley Jessick (Toxicology). Environmental fate of veterinary antibiotics, including persistence, mobility, bioavailability, and biotransformation.

Hirofumi Kosaki (Toxicology: Jeff Wolt, Agronomy, co-advisor). Development of methodology for quantifying residues of biopharming proteins from environmental matrices; studies on the environmental fate and effects of vaccines produced in transgenic corn.

Ian Murphy (Toxicology). Environmental chemistry and toxicology of agrichemicals, including phytoremediation of pesticides.



The focus of Courtney's research is the systematics and ecology of aquatic insects. Specific areas of study include phylogeny of dipteran families; morphology, phylogeny, biogeography, and historical ecology of aquatic insects; biodiversity and conservation of aquatic habitats; and use of aquatic insects as indicators of water quality.

Project Leader

Gregory Courtney - Professor of Entomology and Curator of Iowa State Insect Collection

Research Assistants (PhD Students)

Rebecca Brown (Entomology/Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). Taxonomy, phylogeny, and biogeography of the net-winged midges of Madagascar (Diptera: Blephariceridae: Paulianina Alexander and Eupaulianina Stuckenberg).

Andrew Fasbender (Entomology). Systematic revision of the phantom crane flies (Diptera: Ptychopteridae), with emphasis on the genus Ptychoptera Meigen



Dr. Holscher is responsible for the development of outreach education pertaining to livestock and poultry pest management, public health pest management, stored grain pest management, urban pest management, youth and 4-H entomology, and the Pesticide Applicator Certification Program.

Project Leader

Ken Holscher - Associate Professor



Research is focused on the study of pheromone biosynthesis in moths, including elucidation of pheromone biosynthetic pathways and hormonal regulation. Research projects include identification of receptors that bind the peptide hormone pheromone biosynthesis-activating neuropeptide (PBAN). This work is being conducted with the corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea, European cornborer, Ostrinia nubilalis, and the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Research is also conducted on hydrocarbon profiles of various insects.

Project Leader

Russell Jurenka - Professor

Research Assistant (Postdoctoral Associate)

Tyasning Nusawardani. Identification of PBAN receptors in the European cornborer. Site-directed mutagenesis of PBAN receptors.

Research Assistant (PhD Student)

Jon Oliver. (PhD student, Bartholomay, co-advisor. Ecology of Lyme disease in Iowa, and molecular and physiological determinants of bacteria-tick interactions.

Research Assistant (MS Student)

Erica Hellmich. PBAN/pyrokinin-like peptides in the nervous system of Culicidae (mosquitoes).


Dr. Lewis is responsible for outreach education on insect pest management in horticultural crops, households and structures. Research includes interdepartmental projects in sustainable agriculture focusing on vegetables and fruits.

Project Leader

Donald Lewis - Professor



Dr. O'Neal's research is focused on developing ecologically and economically sustainable insect pest management programs for soybean. More specifically, the soybean entomology laboratory is conducting research on (1) determining the optimal management program for soybean aphids (Aphis glycines). This includes the validation of scouting and thresholds for insecticide application and developing best management practices for effective insecticide usage.

(2) Evaluating the role of natural enemies for soybean aphid population control. This includes an investigation of reduced-risk insecticides and their potential to replace broad-spectrum insecticides that are currently the most commonly selected products used against A. glycines. (3) Explore the role of landscape complexity on beneficial insects and the potential for habitat management to improve pest management within annual cropping systems.

(4) Explore the interaction of soybean aphids and soybean cyst nematode and their impact on soybean yield and quality.

Project Leader

Matt O'Neal - Assistant Professor

Postdoctoral Research Associate

M. Felicitas Avendano (Entomology/Plant Pathology: Greg Tylka, Plant Pathology, co-supervisor). Exploration of the interaction between soybean cyst nematode and soybean aphids.

Research Assistants (PhD Students)

Kevin Johnson (Entomology). Potential of several IPM tactics (row spacing, seed treatments and foliar insecticides) against soybean aphids.

Nick Schmidt (Entomology). Natural enemy community structure in soybeans and their impact on soybean aphid populations. Role of habitat management techniques in field crops that may increase the biological control of insect pests.

Research Assistant (MS Student)

Wayne Ohnesorg (Entomology). Impacts of reduced-risk insecticide chemistries on the soybean aphid natural enemy community in soybeans.


Research and educational efforts include the areas of Pesticide Safety Education, Pesticide Applicator Training and Integrated Pest Management.

Extension Program Specialists (P&S)

Betsy Buffington. Educational efforts include the areas of Seed Treatment, Fumigation, Worker Protection Standard, Personal Protective Equipment, and Agricultural Insect Pest Management.

Kristine Schaefer. Demonstration research and educational efforts include the areas of Commercial Agriculture Weed, Insect and Disease Pest Management, Private Applicator Continuing Instructional Course, Field Crop Pest Management-Weeds, Phytoxicity, Pesticide Container Recycling, and Water Quality.

Mark Shour. Demonstration research and educational efforts include the areas of School Integrated Pest Management, Child Care Integrated Pest Management, Ornamental and Turfgrass Pest Management, Invasive Insect Species, Forest Pest Management, and Urban Integrated Pest Management.

Program Assistant (P&S)

Kathleen Wilson. Program efforts include: coordination of the Commercial and Private Pesticide Applicator Training Program, federal and state reporting, and overall program coordination.



Dr. Rice is responsible for the statewide extension entomology programs for field and forage crops. Primary research activities focus on applied pest management solutions for corn, soybean, and alfalfa. Current research projects are examining Bt corn resistance to western bean cutworm, ecology and management of western bean cutworm, and ecology and management of bean leaf beetle and bean pod mottle virus in soybean.

Project Leader

Marlin E. Rice - Professor

Research Associate (P&S)

Royce Bitzer. Management of the western bean cutworm in corn.

Research Assistant (PhD Student)

Jeffrey Bradshaw (Entomology/Plant Pathology: John Hill, Plant Pathology, co-advisor). Ecology and management of the bean leaf beetle and bean pod mottle virus in soybean.



The overall goal of the project is to develop management strategies for insect pests of corn. Research is focused mainly on the corn rootworm and includes evaluating the efficacy and suitability to Iowa production systems of recently developed transgenic corn varieties.

Project Leader

Jon Tollefson - Professor

Agricultural Specialist (P&S)

James Oleson. Supervision of evaluation of insecticides for control of corn pests and coordination of research.

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Patti Prasifka. Determining the distribution, abundance and impact of rotation-resistant corn rootworms.

Research Assistant (MS Student)

Stephanie Kadlicko (Entomology). Yield tolerance of commercial Serbian corn varieties to attack by corn rootworms.

PhD Student

Rachel Binning (Entomology: Hellmich, co-advisor). Investigate insect behavior related to resistance to transgenic corn.

MS Students

Nick Kiley (Entomology). Determining the distribution, abundance and impact of rotation-resistant corn rootworms.

Miriam Lopez (Entomology: L. Lewis, co-advisor). Insect pathology and Bt risk assessment.

Erica Simbro (Entomology: L. Lewis, co-advisor). Incidence of disease infection in western bean cutworm (WBCW) populations and its impact on their susceptibility to Bt proteins and rearing.



Dr. VanDyk is responsible for creating and maintaining information technology infrastructure in support of entomology research, education, and extension. Emphasis is on the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as tagging, collaboration and community-driven websites. Current efforts include extension publications such as the Horticulture and Home Pest newsletter, pest monitoring networks for cutworms, and the website which contains over 33,000 pages and receives more than 1.8 million hits per day.

Project Leader

John VanDyk - Systems Analyst/Adjunct Assistant Professor




Research focuses on the ecology and genetics of corn insect pests, resistance management, and non-target effects of transgenic corn. Development of practical strategies that corn producers can use to prevent or delay European corn borers from becoming resistant to transgenic corn toxins. Development of video tracking systems that can be used to assess tunneling behavior of corn borer larvae.

Project Leader

Richard Hellmich - Collaborator/Assistant Professor.

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Jarrad Prasifka. Develop methods to monitor for European corn borer resistance to Bt corn and investigate non-target effects of transgenic corn.

PhD Student

Rachel Binning (Entomology: Tollefson, co-advisor). Investigate insect behavior related to resistance to transgenic corn.

Research Technician

Keith Bidne. Supervisor of Insect Ecology Laboratory.



Research in classical insect pathology/biological control of insect pests of corn. Currently conducting research on Beauveria bassiana as a plant endophyte, Nosema pyrausta as a population regulator, and the potential impact of transgenic plants on nontarget organisms including insect pathogens.

Project Leader

Leslie C. Lewis - Collaborator/Professor

Research Technician (MS Student)

Miriam Lopez (Entomology: Tollefson, co-advisor). Insect pathology and Bt risk assessment.

MS Student

Erica Simbro (Entomology: Tollefson, co-advisor). Incidence of disease infection in western bean cutworm (WBCW) populations and its impact on their susceptibility to Bt proteins and rearing.

Research Technicians

Bob Gunnarson. Supervisor of the Insect Pathology Laboratory.

Jean Dyer. Supervisor of insect rearing.



Research in conventional and molecular ecology of insect pests of corn, and the role of individual variation in behavior on population-level phenomena. Currently conducting research to characterize European corn borer adult aggregation sites, distribution of larval damage throughout fields and landscape features affecting it, flight and dispersal behavior (via mark-release and flight mills), and inference of gene flow using molecular markers. Also molecular ecology and genomics of western corn rootworm, including leadership of the international Diabrotica Genetics Consortium.

Project Leader

Thomas W. Sappington – USDA-ARS Collaborator, courtesy faculty appointment

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Jennifer E. Buhay. Population genetics of Blastobasis repartella (Lepidoptera: Coleophoridae), a stem-boring pest of switchgrass.

Graduate Student

Jing Sun ("Jessie") - PhD student. European corn borer population genetics and molecular ecology.

Research Technicians

Randy Ritland. Supports primarily field research on European corn borer adult ecology.

Bob Gunnarson. Supports primarily laboratory research on European corn borer and western bean cutworm pathology.



Research in the areas of molecular genetics, quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping, and gene expression are being used to evaluate strategies that delay the development of resistance to transgenic crops, as well as ecological diversification that affect gene flow within populations of insect pests of corn. The application of these methods are aimed at determining how insect genes and genomes adapt to environmental selection pressures, and how these changes affect current field control tactics.

Project Leader

Brad Coates - Collaborator/Assistant Professor