UI entomologist honored for leadership
By MATTHEW WEAVER
MOSCOW, Idaho -- A good teacher made Nilsa Bosque-Pérez want to study insects to benefit agriculture.
"He was so inspiring and so enthusiastic," she recalled. "We often hear a good professor can make a difference in the life of a student -- that is definitely true."
A professor of entomology at the University of Idaho for 16 years, Bosque-Pérez hopes to pass on the same passion to her graduate students.
"You learn a lot from them --it's a two-way street," she said. "They might be my students now; they will be my colleagues very soon."
Bosque-Pérez is also following in her father's footsteps. She grew up at the research station where he worked as a farmer and agronomist for the University of Puerto Rico.
"I love agriculture because I've been exposed to it from the time I was a kid," she said.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently recognized Bosque-Pérez, naming her a fellow. The association cited her international leadership in entomology and her contributions to interdisciplinary graduate education.
Bosque-Pérez directs the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT). Funded by a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the program funds 23 doctoral students in Idaho and Costa Rica.
"We are aware that conflicts our society faces require teamwork," Bosque-Pérez said. "We want to provide those skills to students early in their professional development so that when they join the work force, they already have the skills to approach problems from a broad perspective and collaborate as parts of teams."
"Nilsa is truly worthy of this recognition," John Hammel, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean, said in a press release. "She has always directed an innovative research program focused on solving critical agricultural issues."
Bosque-Pérez conducts research on insects that attack wheat, particularly aphids. Barley yellowdwarf virus outbreaks occur sporadically, and her work includes better understanding of the way insects and the virus interact.
While collaborating with fellow UI entomologist Sanford Eigenbrode, the team found infected aphids are attracted to plants that are not infected by the virus, while infected plants will attract non-infected aphids.
"Perhaps it's not unusual behavior, but it wasn't exactly known before," Bosque-Pérez said. "The virus can almost manipulate the insect for its advantage so it spreads in the field."
Understanding interactions could improve management practices, such as developing trap crops, she said.
The researchers are looking for grant funding for small-scale field studies, Bosque-Pérez said.
She also works with regional spring wheat breeders to develop varieties resistant to the pest Hessian fly, which causes severe yield losses in susceptible varieties. Many are available and raised by farmers in the region.
"If it wasn't for that, they would be suffering a lot more damage from the fly," she said.