UAES's Don Roberts Receives Career Honor

Utah State University insect pathologist and Utah Agricultural Experiment Station researcher Donald W. Roberts received the Society for Invertebrate Pathology's 2009 Founders' Honoree award, the society's top career honor. Roberts, a research professor in USU's Department of Biology, was recognized at an Aug. 17 ceremony during the group's annual meeting in Park City, Utah. "The award recognizes individual scientists and is awarded in recognition of outstanding and seminal contributions in the discipline of invertebrate pathology," said James Becnel, chair of the society's award committee. "It is a distinct honor to present Dr. Roberts with the society's highest award."

A longtime researcher of fungal diseases in insects, Roberts' efforts include study of microbial control of Mormon crickets and grasshoppers -- both vexing agricultural pests. With a team of student researchers, Roberts is investigating fungi that can keep cricket and grasshopper populations in check without harming the surrounding environment.

Roberts' team has collected more than 10,000 soil samples from throughout the western United States that contain varied fungi. In the lab, the scientists isolate the different fungi and test their effects on insects in the field. At a current field research site, the scientists have placed more than 400 mesh cages, each housing a single insect infected with a fungus, and are observing the effects on each cricket.

"Field tests are critical because what works in the lab may not work in the field," says graduate student Chad Keyser.

The researchers note that, when the crickets detect an infection, they instinctively sun themselves to kill the pathogen. Fungi selected to control the insects must therefore be able to withstand a range of temperatures associated with a specific region.

Roberts, who joined USU in 1997, is internationally renowned for his basic and applied research of insect pathogens. He's established insect pathology teams at sites throughout the globe, including the United States, Brazil and the Philippines. In 1980, Roberts organized the Insect Pathology Resources Center at Cornell University, now part of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, which supports training for scientists throughout the world and maintains a repository of insect pathogens.

Related links:

"USU isolating Mormon cricket-killing fungus," KSL-TV Eyewitness News, June 25, 2009

USU Department of Biology

USU College of Science

Society for Invertebrate Pathology

Contact: Donald W. Roberts, 435-797-0049

Writer: Mary-An Muffoletto, 435-797-3517