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How One Entomologist is Breaking Barriers in Crop Protection

Adekunle Adesanya, Ph.D.

Meet Adekunle Adesanya, Ph.D., field scientist at Corteva Agriscience, expert in twospotted spider mites, and subject of the next installment of our “Standout Early Career Professionals” series. (Photo courtesy of Adekunle Adesanya, Ph.D.)

By Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, Ph.D.

Adekunle Adesanya, Ph.D., is currently a field scientist with Corteva Agriscience. He received his Ph.D. in 2019 from Washington State University. In addition to numerous prestigious awards, Adesanya was also the recipient of the 2020 ESA Henry and Sylvia Richardson Research grant.

Chakrabarti Basu: Tell us about your current job and educational background.

Adekunle Adesanya, Ph.D.

Adekunle Adesanya, Ph.D.

Adesanya: I am the product development scientist for Corteva Agriscience with emphasis in crop protection in coastal California. Prior to my current job, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Atkinson Center for Sustainability and the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. I earned my Ph.D. in agricultural entomology at Washington State University (WSU) with emphasis on the mechanisms and management of pesticide resistance in arthropod pests of specialty crops in the inland Pacific Northwest. Prior to that, my master’s thesis in entomology from Auburn University examined the role of diet breadth and suitability on the activities of detoxification enzymes in the polyphagous Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica). My place of birth is Lagos, Nigeria. I earned my bachelor’s degree in crop production and protection from Obafemi Awolowo University in Osun State, Nigeria. My primary motivation for joining Corteva Agriscience as a product development scientist is the opportunity to engage directly with growers and contribute to sustainable food production while delivering science-based solutions for crop protection.

Tell us more about your research and what makes it unique.

My research in the past and present centers on addressing pest management problems for crop growers by conducting discovery and translation research. I consider my research approach unique because it is multidisciplinary in nature and it offers me the experience of working with researchers and stakeholders across academia, nonprofit, and industry. My research focuses on understanding the genetic and physiological basis of adaption to xenobiotics using arthropod pests of agricultural importance as the model organisms. On the applied end, I evaluate the efficacy of new crop protection agents and their compatibility with growers’ practice. I also extend the findings from my research to relevant growers’ groups and stakeholders to improve their pest management strategies.

What are some of the interesting research challenges that you face, and how do you solve these?

Overcoming challenges was a frequent occurrence in the course of my graduate education. During my master’s degree, the majority of my experiments were conducted in the molecular toxicology lab, not in my advisor’s lab. The equipment I used for experiments was housed in different buildings on campus, and having access to this equipment become a big ordeal. I was able to develop a good rapport with members of different labs that own the equipment. During my Ph.D. study, it was quite a hassle to conduct the basic studies on the mechanisms of acaricide in the twospotted spider mite (TSSM) and also do extension-based research to provide guidance for growers whose crops are plagued by the two-spotted spidermite (Tetranychus urticae, or TSSM for short). I was able to partition my time; I spent my summertime at WSU’s Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center collecting TSSM populations from multiple fields and characterizing their resistance to multiple acaricides. During winter and spring seasons, I spent time in the lab and greenhouses at the WSU main campus in Pullman, Washington, to conduct studies addressing the fundamentals of acaricide resistance in TSSM.

The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted my research plan during my postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell University. The initial plan of study was to travel to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya to study the effect of landscape complexity and local management in maize farming on the biological control of the invasive fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). However, due to an immigration policy bottleneck and the subsequent outbreak of COVID-19, I was stranded in Pullman, Washington. Instead, I was able to set up a new research project through a collaboration between my Ph.D. lab at WSU and my host lab in Cornell.

What made you choose entomology?

My journey in entomology started 10 years ago, during my undergraduate thesis research. After taking foundation classes in insect taxonomy and economic entomology, I was really fascinated with the art and science of entomology. The thought of doing a wide range of research with insects with limited ethical concerns is always appealing. My first research with insects was fruit flies in my animal genetics class. Besides, my grandparents were cocoa farmers in western Nigeria, and they struggled with managing cocoa mirid bugs. I love entomology because it provides me the ability to fully express myself through my research and extension engagement and other activities.

Other than research, are you involved with extension or stakeholder-oriented research experiments?

Yes, a significant part of my Ph.D. and postdoc duties at WSU was working with different specialty crop growers in the Pacific Northwest and California to address pesticide resistance problems in intractable pests such as TSSM, onion thrips (Thrips tabaci), and western tarnished plant bug (Lygus hesperus). I was a co-author on grants that were funded by the Washington hops commission, the alfalfa seed growers, the California strawberry commission, and other grant agencies.

twospotted spider mite nymphs

Under a high-resolution scanning electron microscope view, a pair of twspotted spider mite nymphs (Teteranchyus urticae can be seen feeding on lima bean leaves. (Photo by Adekunle Adesanya, Ph.D.)

Finally, if you could be any arthropod, which would you pick and why?

That is a tough one; however, I will go with the twospotted spider mite. This is primarily because of its unrivaled ability to adapt to numerous host plants and acaricides and insecticides. Its resilience always motivates me. I have spent thousands of hours working on TSSM in the field, greenhouse, and lab, and I cannot help but marvel at this species.

Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, Ph.D., is currently an assistant professor of entomology at Mississippi State University and is the Physiology Biochemistry and Toxicology Section Representative to the ESA Early Career Professionals Committee. Email: pb1090@msstate.edu.

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