Tackling Spotted Wing Drosophila

Mar 17, 2011

Deep in the bowels of Briggs Hall on the UC Davis campus, entomology graduate student Kelly Hamby works on a pest that is giving growers fits: spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii).

First detected in California in the fall of 2008, the fly has become an significant pest of berry and cherry crops, which have a combined farmgate value of $1.9 billion.

“My research is focused on the molecular biology and genomics of insecticide resistance in this fly,” said Hamby, who works in the lab of her major professor, integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, professor and former vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

“It is closely related to the model organism Drosophila melanogaster for which much is already known, so I hope to draw from those studies to enhance mine.  I plan to monitor the genomic changes as resistance develops in both the field and the lab, and use this information to help growers manage insecticide resistance. “

Her work has not gone unnoticed.

The Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America (PBESA) is honoring her as the branch recipient of the Lillian and Alex Feir Graduate Student Travel Award in Insect Physiology, Biochemistry or Molecular Biology. She'll receive a commemorative plaque at an awards luncheon on Tuesday, March 29 at PBESA's meeting in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

The branch will then nominate and endorse her for the national award, to be given at the ESA's annual meeting Nov. 13-16 in Reno.

This is indeed a high honor.

PBESA encompasses 11 U.S. states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming); several U.S. territories, including American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands; and  parts of Canada and Mexico.

Hamby, pursuing her doctorate in entomology, is a graduate of UC Davis with a bachelor of science degree in environmental toxicology. In her fruit fly project, she works closely with molecular geneticist Joanna Chiu, a UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty member who specializes in molecular chronobiology.

"I greatly appreciate Joanna’s willingness to work with my students to add an exciting and useful new dimension to their work," Zalom said.

Dorothy Feir (1929-2008), the 1989 president of ESA, established the award as a tribute to her parents who, “at considerable self-sacrifice, "encouraged education and travel experience for their daughters,” she related.

Feir, who grew up in Missouri, received her doctorate in entomology from the University of Wisconsin in 1968; taught biology at St. Louis University, beginning in 1961; and was the first woman president of the now 6000-member ESA.  ESA named her a fellow in 1993, an honor limited to only 10 persons a year.

Feir donated her multimillion estate to various institutions and organizations for the study of insects--so future entomologists can benefit.

By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

GRADUATE STUDENT Kelly Hamby, who is studying for her doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, works in the Frank Zalom lab on the spotted wing drosophila. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Kelly Hamby

CLOSE-UP of the spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii). This pest pierces such fruits as cherries and berries and deposits its eggs inside. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of Drosophila