Entomologist named Black Award recipient in College of Agricultural Sciences

April 11, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kelli Hoover, professor of entomology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is the recipient of the 2019 Alex and Jessie C. Black Award for Excellence in Research.

The honor, which includes a $5,000 cash stipend, recognizes a tenure-track faculty member in the college whose significant accomplishments include exceptional and original agricultural research conducted at Penn State.

She plans to present a seminar in her home department on her research in the fall, at which time she will be recognized for her achievements and presented with the award.

Hoover, who joined the Department of Entomology in 1998, has made numerous contributions in research, teaching and service in the study of invasive species and the threats they pose to forest, ornamental and agricultural systems, according to Gary Felton, department head and professor of entomology.

Kelli Hoover wins Black award

Kelli Hoover, professor of entomology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

IMAGE: Penn State

“Dr. Hoover’s research program is well-funded and internationally recognized as diverse, vibrant and innovative,” said Felton. “While making discoveries through basic research, she continues to strive to apply the outcomes of that research by actively engaging other scientists, stakeholder groups and policymakers within Pennsylvania, nationally and globally to make a difference — to prevent and manage the consequences of invasive species on our ecosystems.”

Hoover has studied trapping techniques for the Asian longhorned beetle; the gut microbial symbionts of the Asian longhorned beetle and hemlock woolly adelgid; biological control of hemlock woolly adelgid; spotted lanternfly impact and management; and how habitat influences pollination and production of viable seed for black cherry regeneration.

She was the lead author of a highly acclaimed study that was one of the first to identify the gene of a parasite responsible for altering the behavior of a host animal.

Hoover and her team studied the gypsy moth caterpillar, an insect that scales trees at night to feed on leaves, returning to the safety of the ground during the day. But a baculovirus can change this behavior — a caterpillar in the final stages of infection no longer returns to the ground.

The virus unleashes a battery of enzymes that digest the caterpillar from the inside out, releasing a rain of new viral particles from the liquefying animal. Because this happens up high, the virus is dispersed widely to infect other caterpillars.

Hoover’s research identified that a specific viral gene, EGT, was responsible for manipulating the behavior of the caterpillars. The finding was published in Science, reviewed by the Faculty of 1000, and received a great deal of media attention, including profiles in Scientific American, a special issue of National Geographic and an interview on NPR’s Science Friday.

In addition, Hoover leads a research team that has developed radio frequency, or RF, technology for pallet sanitation. The patent-pending, wood-treatment system destroys insects lurking within wood products by using electromagnetic wave penetration, similar to that of a microwave oven.

The treatment is more efficient and uses less energy than conventional kilns and chemical drying methods, making it not only better for a company’s bottom line, but also better for the environment. This innovation has the potential to be transformative in required international trade wood-sanitation treatment.

Hoover’s research program is supported by several national and state government grant programs, commodity groups and the private sector. She is currently the principal or co-principal investigator on grants totaling $10 million, with $1.62 million directly supporting her program.

Since 1998, Hoover has been the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on grants totaling $21.8 million, with $10.6 million directly supporting her programs. She actively collaborates with researchers in Europe, China, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The results of her research are disseminated broadly through seminars, conference presentations and relevant federal, state and international agencies responsible for preventing or mitigating the spread and impacts of invasive species. Hoover has published 107 peer-reviewed manuscripts and two book chapters, with two additional manuscripts currently under review.

She holds a bachelor's degree in biology of natural resources from the University of California at Berkeley, a master’s degree in biology from San Jose University and a doctorate in entomology from the University of California at Davis.

At Penn State, Hoover teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in invasive species and insect management and has mentored numerous graduate and undergraduate students, many of whom have received prestigious awards and fellowships.

The Alex and Jessie C. Black Award is a tribute to the life and career of the late Alex Black, who was a professor of animal nutrition and the associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Penn State, and his wife, the late Jessie Clements Black.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 13, 2020