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Chemical Ecologist Pioneered Insect Communications

Dr. Leal, a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, is a newly selected Fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA). This is a highly prestigious honor.

The 6,000-member organization selects up to 10 members each year as a Fellow, recognizing outstanding contributions in research, teaching, extension, and administration. This year’s 10 Fellows will be recognized at the ESA annual meeting set Dec. 13-16 in Indianapolis.

"Dr. Leal is an acknowledged leader nationally and internationally in the field of insect chemical ecology," said May Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Lauding his research, publications and leadership, she praised him as a trail blazer and world authority on chemical communication. As chair of the Department of Entomology, he shepherded the department to the No. 1 status in the nation (Chronicle of Higher Education). Among his other leadership activities, past president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology and the first chair of the ESA’s section on Integrative Physiological and Molecular Insect Systems.

Entomologist Bruce Hammock, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, said Leal’s research has "practical implications in explaining how insects communicate within species, how they detect host and non-host plants, and how insect parasites detect their prey."

Pheromones are a major “green” approach to insect control, a movement away from pesticides. His work on multiple pheromones will greatly benefit not only California and the nation, but international agriculture. His navel orangeworm work alone is certain to result in a multi-million dollar beneficial impact on crops ranging from almonds to citrus.

Leal has identified and synthesized complex pheromones from such insects as scarab beetles, true bugs, longhorn beetles, moths, and the naval orangeworm. He and his laboratory discovered the secret mode of the insect repellent DEET. The groundbreaking research, published August 18, 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is among the most widely downloaded and cited PNAS documents.

Educated in Brazil and Japan, Leal holds a doctorate in applied biochemistry from Tsukuba University, Japan, with other degrees in chemical engineering and agricultural chemistry, and is Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Leal is the 11th UC Davis entomologist to be named a Fellow of ESA. Richard M. Bohart (1917-2007), for whom the Bohart Museum of Entomology is named, was the first UC Davis entomologist to be selected an ESA Fellow (1947). Ten others followed: Donald McLean, 1990; Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. (1907-2003), 1991; John Edman, 1994; Robert Washino, 1996; Bruce Eldridge, 2001; William Reisen, 2003; Harry Kaya, 2007; Michael Parrella and Frank Zalom, 2008; and Walter Leal, 2009.