Four new faculty members bring expertise to Penn State's entomology department

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Department of Entomology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences has announced the addition of four faculty members who have joined the department during the current academic year.

Elizabeth McGraw was appointed as professor and Huck Scholar in Entomology, and Erika Machtinger, Tanya Renner and Fang (Rose) Zhu were named assistant professors of entomology.

Elizabeth McGraw's research examines the role of mosquito and dengue virus genetic diversity in determining virus infection and transmission in the mosquito, with an eye toward understanding how mosquito and virus genotypes affect patterns of human disease.

She also studies the association between mosquitoes and Wolbachia bacteria, a naturally occurring mosquito endosymbiont, which is an organism that lives inside another to the mutual benefit of both. Her lab is investigating how the symbiont prevents pathogens from replicating — a trait that is the cornerstone of an international effort to develop Wolbachia-based biocontrol against dengue virus.

McGraw earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1993 and a doctorate from Penn State in 1998, both in biology. She spent three years at Yale University School of Medicine, first as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral trainee, then as a National Science Foundation fellow in microbiology.

After completing her NSF microbiology fellowship at the University of Queensland, Australia, McGraw spent six years on the faculty there as an assistant professor and senior lecturer in genetics. From 2011 until joining Penn State in 2017, she was a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University in Victoria, Australia.

Erika Machtinger's research and extension programs are aimed at reducing the health risks to humans and animals associated with zoonotic disease vectors and other pests of veterinary concern. She oversees the Veterinary Entomology Laboratory, which investigates the ecological relationships between vertebrates and their ectoparasites to facilitate development of control methods and integrated pest management strategies for both arthropod pests and disease vectors. Her approach encompasses population and chemical ecology, behavior studies, parasitoid-host interactions, biological control, molecular biology, toxicology and wildlife biology.

Machtinger came to Penn State after two years at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, where she was a research entomologist and postdoctoral scientist working to develop area-wide methods for combating Lyme disease. She studied ecological interactions between ticks and their wildlife hosts and evaluated chemical and biological tick-control agents, repellents and other behavior-modifying chemicals for suppression of tick populations.

Previously, Machtinger was a postdoctoral researcher in entomology at the University of Florida, a senior environmental scientist at LPG Environmental & Permitting Services in Mount Dora, Florida, and a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Habitat Council in Silver Springs, Maryland.

A 2005 graduate of the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in wildlife conservation and ecology, she worked as a graduate assistant and laboratory manager while earning master's and doctoral degrees in entomology from the University of Florida.

Tanya Renner's research program explores evolutionary patterns and processes — in particular, how multi-species interactions shape diversity on a genome-wide scale and influence form and function.

Renner's lab uses plants and insects as models to study adaptation, and current projects focus on the evolution of chemical and structural defense. Her work examines the underlying genetics both linking and separating chemical defense and nutrient acquisition in plants; plant structural defense mechanisms and adaptations for insect capture; and chemical defense and detection in insects. Study organisms include charismatic carnivorous plants and explosive bombardier beetles, both of which can be found in Pennsylvania.

Renner received a bachelor's degree in biology from San Diego State University in 2006 and a doctorate in plant biology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011. After serving as a lecturer in the Department of Integrative Biology and as a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, she was named a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona.

While at the University of Arizona, Renner also served briefly as an adjunct professor in the Biology Department at Pima Community College. She came to Penn State after spending two years as an assistant professor in evolutionary biology at San Diego State University.

Rose Zhu studies the mechanisms and evolution of insects' adaptation to chemical stresses in their environment. In nature, insects face extensive chemical pressure from their hosts, predators, parasitoids, competitors and other abiotic factors, including pesticides. Understanding the molecular and genetic basis of insect responses to the chemical pressure in their ecosystem is a key challenge in developing innovative techniques and strategies for precision pest management and beneficial species conservation.

Zhu received a bachelor's degree in plant protection in 1999 from Shandong Agricultural University, China, and a master's degree in entomology in 2002 from China Agricultural University. After earning a doctorate in entomology in 2007 from Auburn University, she spent six years in the Department of Entomology at the University of Kentucky, first as a postdoctoral scholar and then as a research associate.

In 2014 and 2015, Zhu was a research associate in the Department of Entomology at Washington State University. She then spent two and a half years there as an assistant research professor before joining the Penn State faculty.

The mission of Penn State's Department of Entomology is to conduct outstanding research on insect science that will improve human health, quality of life, and the sustainability of our food and ecosystems. The department offers an undergraduate minor and graduate programs in entomology and participates in the agroecology option of the plant sciences undergraduate major. In addition, the department provides practical, research-based information and education through Penn State Extension to homeowners, agricultural producers, beekeepers and others.

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Last Updated February 23, 2018