Novel solutions for subsistence farmers is topic of free lecture

February 06, 2012

A free public lecture titled "Novel Solutions to Complex Diseases for Subsistence Agriculture" will take place at 11 a.m. on Feb. 11 in Room 100 of the Thomas Building on Penn State's University Park campus. The speaker will be David Hughes, who is an assistant professor of entomology and biology at Penn State.

The event is the fourth of six lectures in the 2012 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a free minicourse for the general public with the theme "Food: Strategies for Growing Enough for Everyone." No registration is required. The lectures take place on consecutive Saturday mornings from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in Room 100 Thomas Building.

Hughes will describe how human trade and migration have homogenized the world such that every pest is everywhere -- bringing together organisms that normally would not meet and leading to catastrophic problems for agriculture. In his lecture, Hughes will discuss how pests and disease cripple poor subsistence farmers, how global trade compounds this problem, and how agricultural universities such as Penn State contain the solutions.

Hughes investigates the relationships between societies of ants and their diseases. One of his principle interests is how parasites have evolved to manipulate their hosts' behavior, motor coordination, and other physiological functions -- a phenomenon known as the "zombie" effect. He is the first scientist to use as a model system for laboratory experiments one of the most dramatic examples of adaptive parasite manipulation of host behavior -- the "death grip" of ants infected by a fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. In addition to his research on fungal parasites and their effects on ants native to Thailand, Hughes explores and surveys other parasites that affect ants and wasps in the United States, Colombia, Ghana, Brazil, China and Australia. Hughes's other research interests include social-insect evolution, integrated pest management, virulence evolution, and human behavior related to disease dynamics.

Hughes has received numerous awards for his scientific research, including a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship in 2008, a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship in 2006, a Varley-Gradwell Travelling Fellowship in Insect Ecology in 2004, and the Hope Studentship at Oxford. Before joining Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and the Eberly College of Science, Hughes worked as a researcher at both the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and the School of Bioscience at the University of Exeter in England.

Hughes has published many scientific papers in journals such as Nature, Science, American Naturalist, PloS One, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and Ecological Entomology. In addition, he has edited a book for Oxford University Press on the sociobiology of communication, and he currently is editing a second book, also for Oxford University Press. His research has received much attention from the popular press, appearing in Discover magazine, Science News, National Geographic, the New York Times, and Scientific American. In addition, CNN, the BBC, MSNBC, and Fox News have featured his research in news broadcasts.

Hughes received a doctoral degree in entomology from the University of Oxford in 2003, and a bachelor's degree in zoology from the University of Glasgow in 1999.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at 814-863-0901 or by e-mail at More information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures and a list of other lectures in the 2012 series, is available online at

  • David Hughes, assistant professor of entomology and biology at Penn State

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 09, 2015