Henry Chung new MSU Entomology professor will expand research in chemical ecology

posted on January 26, 2017 10:49am

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Beginning January 2017, Henry Chung is a new assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, bringing expertise in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying areas such as insecticide resistance. Chung says his lab will research the molecular and physiological mechanisms of how insects adapt to different environments and to chemicals such as insecticides and pheromones. His team will also study how this adaptation can lead to reproductive isolation in some cases and the formation of new insect species.

Chung completed his PhD at the University of Melbourne (Australia) in the Department of Genetics, where he studied how the evolution of gene regulation and expression could lead to insecticide resistance. Most recently, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Sean B. Carroll at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There he investigated how ecological divergence in two sibling species of Drosophila fruit flies contributed to their reproductive isolation.

“The key to this story is insect cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs),” Chung said. Insect CHCs play dual roles in protecting the insect from dehydration as well as acting as pheromones. As insect species adapt to environments with different humidity levels, their CHCs evolve and this led to the formation of new species with different pheromonal systems. Changes in CHC production in ecologically diverging populations may therefore be an important general contributor to insect speciation. This research was published in the journal “Science” (March 7, 2014).

Along with his research, Chung will be teaching a course titled “Insect Physiology and Molecular Biology.” The course will cover broad topics in insect physiological systems and processes as well as emerging technologies in insect molecular biology such as CRISPR genome engineering. Chung hopes this updated course will provide students with the basics of insect physiology as well as knowledge of current trends and technology in molecular entomology that will be helpful in graduate research or applying for jobs in the 21st century workforce.

Moving forward, Chung said he is delighted to be at MSU and is proud to be a new Spartan. He is looking forward to applying his molecular research into understanding how pesticide resistance evolved in insect pests in Michigan and contributing to the efforts in resistance management.