Distinguished Professor Walter Leal to Deliver 2019 Entomological Society of America Founders’ Memorial Lecture

Walter Leal
Distinguished Professor Walter Leal will deliver the Founders' Memorial Award lecture at Entomology 2019, November 17-20, in St. Louis, Mo. Kathy Keatley Garvey

Distinguished Professor Walter Leal, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, has been chosen to deliver the Founders' Memorial Award lecture at Entomology 2019, November 17-20, in St. Louis, Mo. 

The Founders' Memorial Award was established in 1958 to honor the memory of scientists who made outstanding contributions to entomology. Each year at the Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting, the recipient of the award delivers the Founders' Memorial Lecture, the topic of which is always a deceased entomologist.

At Entomology 2019, the subject of Leal's lecture will be Thomas Eisner, commonly regarded as the "father of chemical ecology" for his discoveries elucidating chemical defenses used by insects against predators. Notable among them was deciphering how the bombardier beetle defends itself with an internal exothermic chemical reaction, explosively sprayed at attackers. That discovery topped a lengthy list of revelations about the complex and often surprising biochemicals insects produce, from the bitter, predator-deterring taste of the cochineal scale's brilliant red pigment to the sticky foot secretions that allow the palmetto beetle to cling so tightly to leaf surfaces.

Leal's career spanning more than three decades has built on Eisner's work and greatly advanced scientific understanding of insect olfaction. He has identified and synthesized several insect pheromones, and his collaborative efforts led to the first structure of an insect pheromone-binding protein. Leal's studies of olfaction in both agricultural pests and mosquitoes have also led to important management applications in the field. His identification of the sex pheromone system in navel orangeworm (Amyelois transitella), for instance, has been deployed in agricultural fields via mating disruption, significantly reducing the need for pesticide sprays. And in 2018 Leal identified the sex pheromone of the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) a vector of citrus greening disease and a major threat to the citrus industry worldwide.

Leal began his career in chemical engineering in Brazil before moving to Japan to pursue advanced degrees in agricultural chemistry (M.S., Mie University, 1987) and applied biochemistry (Ph.D., Tsukuba University, 1990). He then conducted research for 10 years at Japan's National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Science and the Japan Science and Technology Agency before joining the faculty of UC Davis Department of Entomology in 2000. In 2009, Leal was named a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and other accolades include Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005), a silver medal from International Society of Chemical Ecology (2012), induction into the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (2013), Honorary Fellow Royal Entomological Society (2015), and Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences (2015). He also served as co-chair of the 2016 International Congress of Entomology, the largest scientific event in the history of entomology.

"Walter is an amazing person and an amazing scientist," says Fred Gould, distinguished professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University. "His work has opened new doors to the understanding of how insects receive and perceive odors and has saved farmers in California and Brazil more than $100 million. He's at a point where he could sit back and bask in the glory of his accomplishments, but that is not Walter. He remains as prolific as ever."

Leal will deliver the Founders' Memorial Lecture, titled "Tom Eisner:  An Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence," at the Entomology 2019 Awards Breakfast, beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 19.

Press release from the Entomological Society of America

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