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NMSU students awarded for research presentations at regional entomology meeting

New Mexico State University students proved they know their bugs at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Southwestern Entomologists, held in Las Cruces.

Woman in lab
JinJin Jiang, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biology, earned second place for her poster presentation on "The use of Paraquat in study of stress defense capacity in mosquitoes." (Submitted photo)
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Undergraduate student Ashley Chatterton celebrates her win at the annual meeting of the Society of Southwestern Entomologists with Scott Bundy (left), and Ed Bynum, president of SSE (Submitted photo)
Woman with red top, two men
Melise Taylor celebrates her win at the annual meeting of the Society of Southwestern Entomologists with Scott Bundy (left), and Ed Bynum, president of SSE. (Submitted photo)

Undergraduate student Ashley Chatterton and master's candidate Melise Taylor, both with the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science, each received monetary prizes for their poster presentations. Jinjin Jiang, a doctorate candidate of biology in the College of Arts & Sciences, also received a monetary prize for her poster presentation. All three students won second place in their respective categories.

"The research topics presented during our meeting covered many aspects of insects and other arthropods as they relate to plant, human and animal health, as well as their ecology, systematics and general biology," said Scott Bundy, NMSU associate professor of entomology and president of the 2013 meeting. "The annual meeting is an excellent way for entomologists and budding entomologists to come together and discuss our research. Also, through our Insect Expo, presented for more than 1,200 local school children, we are able to let kids know how important - and cool - insects are to our lives."

At the meeting, Chatterton presented her original research, "Seasonal dynamics of flea beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) on weed hosts in southern New Mexico."

These beetles are known to damage or destroy chile plants early in the growing season. For her work, Chatterton is gathering baseline information about the different species of the pest and different ways to manage them, including the possibility of targeting weed hosts such as Wright groundcherry and silverleaf nightshade to control the beetles. This is the first attempt to evaluate the seasonal dynamics of flea beetles from these plant hosts in New Mexico.

Taylor is studying an invasive species of stinkbug through her research, "The biology of Bagrada hilaris in southern New Mexico."

This pest, a particular nuisance to vegetable crops, first arrived in California in 2008 and somehow worked its way down to New Mexico. Research on this species is preliminary in the U.S. and almost nothing is known about its biology in New Mexico. Taylor is trying to determine the life history of this particular stinkbug and its seasonal abundance in southern New Mexico.

"Ashley and Melise both work in my lab and they are both doing a great job," Bundy said. "I am definitely proud of what they do. I help them with details on their research but they are independent workers who are really learning the skills to be professional entomologists or scientists down the road."

Jiang is working on the malaria vector mosquito Anopheles gambiae in her project, "The use of Paraquat in study of stress defense capacity in mosquitoes."

"Jinjin started her Ph.D. program in my lab in spring 2011," said Jiannong Xu, assistant professor of biology. "She quickly mastered the skills for her research project."

Through their work, Jiang and Xu are interested in the microbial community (microbiome) in the mosquito gut ecosystem. The gut microbes have profound impact on various mosquito life traits, including malaria transmission competence. Understanding of the mosquito gut microbiome will facilitate development of novel strategies to interrupt malaria transmission.

"To better understand how mosquitoes and their gut microbes cooperate in defense against the stress, Jinjin used paraquat, an oxidative stress inducer, to study the question," Xu said. "Her data demonstrated that mosquitoes have limited capacity to cope with oxidative stress, extra stress imposed by paraquat exceeded the protection limit and damaged mosquito ovaries and reduced fecundity. Her data also showed that bacteria isolated from blood-fed guts had higher tolerance to paraquat in vitro."

Bundy said about 130 people attended this year's meeting from institutions in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Mexico.

The students were judged in oral and poster presentations based on the scientific merit of their research and the quality of their presentations. Along with the monetary awards, winning students also received subscriptions to an entomology magazine.