OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY ENTOMOLOGIST NAMED TO NATIONAL ACADEMY
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A 30-year quest to understand how insects survive harsh weather has taken entomologist David Denlinger to some of the most extreme climates on earth -- and has now earned him membership in the National Academy of Sciences.
Denlinger -- professor and chair of the Department of Entomology at Ohio State University -- was one of 72 scientists awarded membership April 20 by the Academy in Washington, D.C. Election to the National Academies is considered one of the highest honors bestowed on a U.S. scientist or engineer.
Tom Rosol, interim vice president for research, said Denlinger’s election was “not only a great honor and recognition of his outstanding scientific accomplishments in entomology, but it also emphasizes the dramatic advances the university, the College of Biological Sciences, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences are making in research.”
Insects possess an internal clock that tells them when to enter diapause -- a state similar to hibernation, Denlinger explained. At the same time, complex chemical systems allow insects to survive extreme temperature changes without freezing or drying out. Tracing the clock and these other survival mechanisms to their genetic basis won him international renown in his field.
In 1992, for instance, he discovered that insects survive cold weather in part by making stress proteins that enhance their tolerance of low temperature.
Since many insects enter diapause at some time during their life cycle, this research gets to the question of how larvae and adult insects develop. “If we can figure out how to turn these mechanisms off and on again, we can better understand how that development has been modulated, and there’s a potential for manipulating insect populations as well,” Denlinger said.
Richard W. Hall, associate dean for the College of Biological Sciences, can’t imagine anybody more deserving of Academy membership than Denlinger. “Dave does it all -- he’s an exceptional researcher, tireless in his service to the university, and he’s a great teacher and a humanitarian,” Hall said, citing Denlinger’s studies of disease-carrying insects in Africa.
That sentiment was echoed by Joan M. Herbers, dean of the College of Biological Sciences. “Dr. Denlinger’s career shows ample evidence that he deserves this award,” she said. “We are thrilled for him and so proud to count him as a member of our faculty.”
Denlinger most often studies flesh flies -- flies whose larvae feed on living or dead animals -- and gypsy moths. He’s also looked at the mosquito species that carries the West Nile virus and the blood-sucking African tsetse fly, which carries sleeping sickness to humans and cattle. And he’s most excited over a grant he just received for travel to Antarctica to study a hearty species of midge.
His discoveries offer new tools for controlling insect populations and for better understanding the regulation of animal development.
One way such tools come into practice is through involvement with Ohio State University Extension. Bobby Moser, executive dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and vice president for agricultural administration and university outreach, was excited to hear the news of Denlinger's election to the Academy.
"His research is very well respected in this country and around the world, and we in FAES are pleased to be a contributor to this really high-impact research effort through the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center," Moser said.
Denlinger earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Pennsylvania State University in 1967, and his doctorate in entomology from the University of Illinois in 1971. He served as a research scientist for the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya, and a research associate at Harvard University before joining the Ohio State faculty in 1976.
He has received numerous awards, including the Recognition Award in Insect Physiology, the Founder's Memorial Award, and the C. V. Riley Achievement Award, all from the Entomological Society of America. He is a Fellow of that society, as well as the Royal Entomological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He won Ohio State’s Distinguished Scholar award in 1996.
New National Academy of Sciences members are elected by current members. Members and associates are recognized for their significant and ongoing achievements in original research.