Ph.D. Student Receives USDA-AFRI Travel Grant

wordpress-insideCongratulations to Wenqing Zhou on receiving a USDA – AFRI travel award to attend the Entomological Society of America’s annual meeting in Minneapolis this November.

The travel grant award is funded by USDA-NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program on Plant-Associated Insects and Nematodes. It was created to provide financial support to graduate students for new networking, presentation, and research opportunities at the meeting that will be held on November 15-18.

Zhou is a Ph.D. candidiate currently being mentored under Professor and Charles R. Parencia Chair in Cotton Entomology, Dr. Greg Sword. Her research interests include plant-herbivore-microbe ecological interactions and their mechanistic explanations.

She received her BS in crop protection from Northwest A&F University in China in 2007, and earned her MS in Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2010, studying the molecular phylogenetic reclassification of the parasitoid family Eulophidae (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea).

Her current dissertation project focuses on exploring interactions between endophytic fungi and plant parasitic nematodes/insect herbivores in cotton, along with their potential use as tools in Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

She has broadened her interdisciplinary experience by working with nematologists, Dr. James Starr and Dr. Terry Wheeler, conducting both lab and field experiments. Beginning with a project on endophyte-associated plant-nematode interactions belowground, she expanded her study to above ground insect-plant-endophyte interactions.

The main goals of her research are to develop fungal endophytes as novel pest control agents against insects and nematodes, explore plant-endophyte-nematode interactions in agroecosystems, and explain the mechanisms underlying endophyte-mediated plant-fungus defensive mutualisms. She is currently writing her dissertation.

“Wenqing has worked hard to develop a very unique data set that illustrates many previously unknown and certainly under-appreciated effects of fungal endophytes in cotton,” Sword said. “Her dissertation work, which is near completion, includes a combination of greenhouse and field trials that clearly demonstrate negative effects of fungal endophytes on both insects and plant parasitic nematodes. Working on nematodes attacking plants below-ground as well as insects attacking plants above-ground is a very novel aspect of her approach.”

Sword was very proud of her accomplishments and said the award will help Zhou share her research with her peers nationwide.

The USDA-AFRI support to attend the 2015 Entomology meeting will allow her to share her exciting work with the scientific community and continue to network to advance her career,” Sword said.


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