Becoming a Lifelong Entomologist
Dr. Hongmei Li-Byarlay, Associate Professor and Project Director, Central State University
I started my PhD study and research at Purdue Entomology on August 19th, 2002. Now, as I am writing this article, all my memories of Smith Hall and Whistler Hall come back through the time machine! I spent five important years of my life at the Purdue campus from 2002 to 2007. My doctoral research focus was on the transcriptomic, proteomic and structural analyses of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) larval midgut. I was a graduate research assistant and mentored by Drs. Barry Pittendrigh and Larry Murdock. I learned so much about insect genetics, toxicology, and physiology. My other committee members were Drs. William M. Muir and Richard E. Shade. I also worked as a teaching assistant with Drs. Tom Turpin, Chris Oseto, and Linda Mason. I joined the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in 2002. Before I came to Purdue University, I had three years of training in insect systematics of Lepidoptera and received my master of science in zoology at Nan Kai University in Tianjin, China.
Currently I am an Associate Professor and Project Director for Pollinator Health at Central State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and a new 1890 Land Grant Institution in Ohio. My lab’s research is on the behavioral genetics, epigenetics, and molecular mechanisms underlying social behavior in honey bees. We are testing innovative hypotheses using pharmacological, molecular, functional genomics, Next Generation Sequencing, and behavioral tools. In addition, our group also actively conducts applied research on biotic (such as viral infections) and abiotic stressors (such as pesticides and landscapes) affecting the health, behavior, and development of honey bees and wild pollinators. Current research focuses are 1) genomic and epigenomic bases of aggression and defensive behavior, 2) breeding and selection of Ohio biters 1 (OB1) with high grooming and biting behavior against parasitic mites and behavioral resistance, 3) oxidative stress and aging of honey bees, and, 4) queen development and quality, and 5) abiotic and biotic stress of pollinators in different landscapes and farm settings.
My career highlights include eighteen scientific peer-reviewed publications and obtaining 1.3 million dollars in external grants in the last five years. When I started as an independent PI, I received new honors such as the Faculty Honorable Achievement Award (Central State University), 2021; the President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Research (Central State University), acceptance as a new Fellow of the Royal Society of Entomology, a position as the Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee of ESA (2021-2022), service as the President-Elect for the International Branch of ESA, a seat as the Treasurer for the Oversea Chinese Entomologists Association, and a member of the nomination committee for the International Union for Studies of Social Insects.
I have so many special memories of my time at Purdue University, from our lab on the first floor of Whistler Hall to the old Purdue Village. Now when I look back, the most important factor for my success as a PhD student was the tremendous support and mentoring I received from my professors, my department, and other graduate students of Entomology. My professors taught me how to do science, how to learn from my failures and keep going, how to have fun doing insect research, and how to enjoy the process. I volunteered at the Bug Bowl every year and helped serve popcorn, cricket spitting, insect cooking and eating, the petting zoo, and many more. I really enjoyed the camping trips and student activities our graduate student association organized. I still miss every Thursday’s Papa John’s pizza lunch with seminar speakers and fantastic talks. Dr. Virginia Ferris’ questions are still in my head after these many years. I remember each winter’s Pest Management Conference and the students getting together in the Union.
I consider my five years of time at Purdue University as a metamorphosis, helping me to grow my passion in insect science. Because of Purdue Entomology, I chose to be a lifelong Entomologist.