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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


How Insects (Including in Antarctica) Survive Cold: OARDC Scientist's Achievements Net Honor

April 27, 2012

WOOSTER, Ohio — David Denlinger, a professor in Ohio State University’s Department of Entomology, yesterday (4/26) was named winner of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s (OARDC) 2012 Distinguished Senior Faculty Research Award. The award honors outstanding achievements by an OARDC faculty member at the rank of professor. The center is part of Ohio State.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and an Ohio State Distinguished University Professor, Denlinger is considered one of the world’s preeminent researchers in insect physiology related to how insects handle environmental extremes. His work has implications for both agriculture and human health.

Among his achievements, Denlinger is widely recognized for his research on the physiological and molecular mechanisms regulating insect cold hardiness and dormancy, or diapause, and for his pioneering work on the regulation of reproduction in the tsetse fly, which transmits human disease.

His career has involved field and laboratory work in the U.S., Europe, East Africa, Central America and, more recently, Antarctica.

His studies “provide the foundation for our current understanding of mechanisms used by insects for overwintering and have generated new tools that can disrupt the insect life cycle,” one of his nominators said.

Denlinger’s early research on the overwintering diapause (or period of suspended development) of flesh flies helped establish one of the best-known models for studying insect diapause, a model that has been used internationally in many studies. The work led to the development of agents that disrupt the dormancy period of crop-eating insects of the Heliothis/Helicoverpa complex, including the corn earworm, a breakthrough paving the way to natural and targeted controls against those pests.

In addition, his studies of insect cold tolerance found, for example, that many species produce heat shock proteins in winter and that knocking out the genes encoding those proteins leaves the insects vulnerable to harm from the cold.

He is currently studying how the Antarctic midge Belgica antarctica survives extreme conditions and is working with colleagues to sequence the insect’s genome, the first-ever sequencing project for a polar organism.

He has likewise made important contributions to the study of human and animal disease vectors, including early research that led to using hormones to control tsetse flies in Africa. More recent efforts include looking at dormancy as a way to control mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus and dengue.

“This work may help produce methods of interfering with these mosquitoes’ survival abilities, thereby reducing their roles in vectoring diseases,” a nominator said.

Denlinger joined OARDC in 1976. Since then his research has earned funding from such agencies as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. His more than 250 articles have appeared in such prestigious publications as Nature, Science and the American Journal of Physiology.

He is the editor of the Journal of Insect Physiology, considered the top journal in its field, and is a member of the editorial boards of such publications as the European Journal of Entomology, Entomological Science (Japan) and Insect Science (China).

His other previous honors include Ohio State’s Distinguished Undergraduate Research Award; Ohio State’s Distinguished Scholar Award; Pennsylvania State University’s Outstanding Alumnus Award; the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Service Medal; and election to fellow of the Entomological Society of America, the Royal Entomological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree from Penn State.

The OARDC award carries with it a plaque, $1,000 and $3,000 added to the operating expense account of Denlinger’s research program. OARDC Director Steve Slack presented the award during a ceremony at the center’s annual research conference in Wooster.

The members of the selection committee were OARDC scientists Ron Hammond (chair), Katrina Cornish, Kristy Daniels, Terry Graham, Chang Won Lee and Ed McCoy.

In addition to Slack, the speakers at the conference included John Oliver, president of Maple Leaf Bio-Concepts, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada; Brian Cummings, Ohio State’s vice president for technology commercialization and knowledge transfer; and Bobby Moser, Ohio State’s executive vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

OARDC is the research arm of CFAES and is the largest university agricultural bioscience research center in the U.S. The center works not just on food and farming but also, for example, on biofuels, bioproducts, health, nutrition, sustainability and the environment.

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Kurt Knebusch
Steve Slack