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Feature Essay - Andy Ammons

Andy Ammons

Bee Genes for Drunkenness
My name is Andrew Ammons, or Andy, and I am a doctoral graduate student in the Department of Entomology at Purdue University. Like most of us that are fascinated by insects, my interest was sparked during childhood. Supposedly, most children go through a phase where they love both bugs and dinosaurs. In my case that passion never waned. It was a fateful day, however, when I realized that there was not a single living dinosaur to be studied. Bugs, on the other hand, were everywhere and in greater numbers than I could ever imagine. So I left dead bones and from then on the creepy-crawlies (worms, parasites, blood-suckers, insects) were in my future.

I currently work with honey bees (Apis mellifera), which have recently been in the media due to the spread of colony collapse disorder (CCD), a malady of bees whose origin has yet to be explained. I first started working with honey bees in high school with Dr. Mike Hood at Clemson University in South Carolina. There I was privy to all the mysteries and peculiarities that come with housing these social insects. It was there that I learned of the varroa mite, a miniature parasite that feeds on the blood of young bees. An invasive pest from Asian bee cousins, this mite can overwhelm colonies within three years unless chemical treatments or natural resistance stop it. I was studying the utility of sticky traps, which are normally used only for detection, as mite deterrents. Unfortunately, the traps did not reduce mite populations. This failure, though depressing, taught me a valuable lesson about perseverance.
I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology (with a minor in Environmental Studies) in 2003 from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. At this small, private school, tuition is waived in exchange for 10-20 hours of labor per week for the college. My primary job at Berea was teaching assistant in the Biology Department. I set up labs, graded work, and tutored at night. I helped teach classes from Zoology and Parasitology to Developmental and Experimental Biology. 

The summer of my sophomore year at Berea I did research with Drs. Ron Rosen and Gene Chao on the behavioral ecology and membrane electrophysiology of the parasitic fish trematode, Proterometra macrostoma. The cercarial stage of these parasites is more active under red light (simulating darkness), which indicates increased transmission to nocturnal feeding fish. The next year I obtained an internship at the European Biological Control Laboratory in Montpellier, France with Dr. Kim Hoelmer. There I studied the tarnished plant bug, Lygus rugulipennis, and its parasitoid Peristenus digoneutis. We reared nymphs of Lygus to obtain parasitoid cocoons we sent to the US for biological control of Lygus lineolaris, an alfalfa pest and cousin to L. rugulipennis. My last summer at Berea I worked with Dr. Ken Blank and the Kentucky Department of Public Health on surveying the diversity of mosquito species in the surrounding counties and getting samples tested for the presence of West Nile Virus.

After my graduation I entered Purdue University and returned to working with honey bees under the tutelage of Dr. Greg Hunt. In his lab we study the behavioral genetics of honey bees, particularly with regard to defensive behaviors (stinging and guarding). My initial research involved trying to identify other behaviors that could be influenced by candidate genes linked to defensive behavior. These genes indicated that rate of development, circadian rhythm, learning, and even ethanol sensitivity could be influenced in addition to defense. I performed many assays and found that ethanol sensitivity and consumption differed significantly between gentle and defensive bees. My research found that defensive bees show signs of ethanol exposure faster and avoid alcoholic sugar syrup more than gentle bees. To confirm if defensive genes were truly causing this effect, I performed a QTL (quantitative trait loci) mapping experiment for ethanol sensitivity in the bees. Unfortunately, the QTL identified were different than the ones for defensive behavior. However, I am currently cloning genetic markers from my map to pinpoint candidate genes for my ethanol QTL. These genes could be compared with those from other animal models to study how alcohol affects the nervous system. In addition, I have had the pleasure of teaching a General Entomology lab and assisting with the “Insects: Friend and Foe” and Beekeeping classes at the Purdue campus.

I will be graduating from Purdue in December 2007, and am currently “putting out my feelers” for post-doctoral research opportunities, teaching positions, and laboratory technician jobs. I am deeply indebted to Purdue Entomology for the degree I will be receiving, and to all its alumni for their support. If any of this has piqued your curiosity or you have any questions, my e-mail is aammons@purdue.edu.


In this Issue:
Feature Article
  • Purdue Reception Recognizes Establishment of John Osmun Endowed Professorship
Department News
  • 2007 Osmun Award Winner
  • 2007 Entomology Education Project Award
  • Hambleton Award
  • Gates Foundation Grant
  • International Travel
  • New Staff
From the Head Bug
  • Entomology at Purdue:
    The Early Years
Outreach Update
  • Outreach in Entomology
    at Purdue University
Entomology Students
  • Ag Ambassador
  • Summer Graduates
  • Feature Essay – Andy Ammons
Alumni News
From the editor

With each issue of Entomology @ Purdue we keep you up-to-date on what's happening in the Department of Entomology and with Alumni. Will you please take a moment to help keep us up-to-date with you? Paula Layden
Editor, Entomology @ Purdue
Department of Entomology
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