Research Background:

     My three weeks were spent in the Palynology lab at the USDA/ARS labs in College Station Texas. The scientists I primarily worked with were Dr. Gretchen Jones and Dr. Juan Lopez. There were several research assistants also working in the lab.

     Upon arriving to the lab, I was introduced to everyone. I met with each of the scientists and learned about how they contribute to the research.

     One thing I was truly amazed about was the science of palynology (study of pollen). Did you know that pollen grains are practically indestructible. They can be used to find out where an object, person, animal, or insect has been and what it ate. We went out in the fields and collected boll weevils, processed them by crushing them, used various chemicals to remove the guts while leaving the pollen in the solution, and making microscope slides of the pollen in suspension. The slides were then viewed and the pollen grains counted and photographed for identification. Some of these pollen pictures are shown to the left.

      In the case of the moths, the proboscis were split and mounted to be photographed by a scanning electron microscope to identify pollen present on them. Their guts can/are also processed. By looking at this information, one can determine where these insects are coming from, what plants they feed on, and other feeding patterns. This can help scientists develop a plan to keep these insects from attacking the crop in an efficient and safe manner.

     After considering what can be replicated in the classroom, I chose to do my unit on the Corn Earworm. I was taken out into the fields to see first hand what these critters do to a corn crop. I was shown how the scientists raise these insects. The idea is to find out what attracts the adult moths and try to duplicate this scent or pheromone, include a toxin in it, and apply it to prevent the moths from laying their eggs in the corn crop.