How One Entomologist Rears Insects to Support Research and Development

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For Joseph Disi, Ph.D., a typical day as an entomologist at Bayer Crop Science includes constant small experiments for the improvement of insect-rearing workflows, establishing new colonies, and upscaling new insect-rearing processes. In the summer, he also supports field testing. Here, Disi checks a colony of adult monarch butterflies. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Disi, Ph.D., and Bayer Crop Science)

By Priya Chakrabarti Basu, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: This is the next post in the “Standout ECPs” series contributed by the Entomological Society of America’s Early Career Professionals (ECP) Committee, highlighting outstanding ECPs that are doing great work in the profession. (An ECP is defined as anyone within the first five years of obtaining their terminal degree in their field.) Read past posts in the Standout ECPs series.

Joseph Disi, Ph.D.

Joseph Disi, Ph.D., is currently an entomologist at Bayer Crop Science. In his role, Joe provides specialist support for entomological research and development projects including insect cultures and field testing. Prior to joining Bayer, Joe was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Georgia, Athens. At UC Davis he led a project on development of proactive tools for managing the South American leafminer Tuta absoluta, while his work at Georgia focused on developing an integrated pest management program for control of spotted-wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) in blueberries.

Joe has a B.S. in agricultural science from Delta State University in Nigeria and an M.S. in crop breeding and genetics from Southwest University in Chongqing, China, where he studied introgression of genes for resistance to stem rot disease from wild Brassica to develop elite oilseed plants with improved agronomic traits and host resistance to Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. He later completed a Ph.D. degree in entomology at Auburn University under the direction of Henry Fadamiro, Ph.D. Joe’s Ph.D. work focused on understanding how plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria mediate soil health and host-plant resistance to herbivores above and below ground.

Chakrabarti Basu: Tell us about you and how you got interested in entomology.

Disi: I was born in a small agrarian town in a southern state at the delta of River Niger in Nigeria. As someone who grew up close to nature, I saw firsthand the devastation insects caused to corn, yam, and cassava farms. So, from young age, I have always had the dream of creating host plants that could withstand disease and insect pressures.

However, I became fascinated with entomology after taking a chemical ecology class during my M.S. degree where I learned that the success of an arthropod depended on how it interacted with plant odors. There I learned that pheromones and semiochemicals mediate insect species inter- and tri-trophic interactions and about their application in the sustainable management of arthropods in agricultural and urban systems. I found it cool and that was it; I never looked back. I am happy my entomology training in sustainable control of insect pests is contributing to Bayer’s “health for all, hunger for none” vision for the world.

Joseph Disi, Ph.D., says his interest in entomology began during his master’s degree work, after taking a chemical ecology class where he learned that the success of an arthropod depended on how it interacted with plant odors. Here, Disi assesses arthropod abundance in a corn field. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Disi, Ph.D., and Bayer Crop Science)

What are the major responsibilities in your current role?

As a Scientist II entomologist, I oversee scientific and technical projects to support the Bayer Crop Science Plant Biotechnology product development pipeline at a field station in Waterman, Illinois. My typical daily tasks include constant small experiments for the improvement of rearing workflows, establishing new colonies, and upscaling new insect-rearing processes. In the summer I also support field testing.

Tell us about your cross-functional and interdisciplinary projects.

Some of the cross-functional and interdisciplinary projects that I support in the field include environmental risk assessment studies for regulatory dossiers, experiments for “biologicals” product development, and early product-development trials for insect-control plant biotechnology. At the laboratory level, I work with the insect colony managers to ensure our partners in insect diet and plant bioassay teams receive the high-quality insects they need to support rigorous testing.

What excites you the most in your career? Any advice for other ECP members who would like to pursue a similar career?

Working in a large insectary and field station every day presents many new challenges. There is never a lack of new challenges to stimulate my creativity and innovation. I like the fact that my entomology career lets me stay very active year-round.

My advice to other ECP members is to be versatile, be calm, be open, and be aware that it is OK to fail sometimes. Work hard to remain competitive.

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

Hmmm, this list for me keeps evolving. I will choose to be a German cockroach. The arthropod never ceases to amaze me. German roaches are resilient.

Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of entomology at Mississippi State University and 2021-2022 vice-chair of the ESA Early Career Professionals Committee. Email: pb1090@msstate.edu.

  

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