U-Idaho Entomologist Nilsa Bosque-PĂ©rez Honored by Top U.S. Science Association

Thursday, November 29 2012

MOSCOW, Idaho — Entomologist Nilsa Bosque-Pérez of the University of Idaho has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an honor bestowed upon association members by their peers.

The association’s section on agriculture, food and renewable resources recognized her “for international leadership in entomology related to plant health management, for fundamental discoveries in plant-virus-vector interactions and for distinguished contributions to interdisciplinary graduate education.”

“We're very proud of Professor Bosque-Pérez. Her recognition as an AAAS fellow is indicative of the University of Idaho's world-class faculty who make such a difference in reaching students and in answering 21st century challenges for the nation and the world,” said University of Idaho President M. Duane Nellis.

Bosque-Pérez is a professor of entomology and 16-year member of the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences faculty. She directs the $3.2 million National Science Foundation-funded Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program that funds 23 doctoral students in Idaho and Costa Rica. The program has created a unique team-based interdisciplinary graduate educational model that has received recognition across the country.

Her research focuses on insect-borne viruses that damage crops worldwide. A native of Puerto Rico and graduate of the University of California, Davis, Bosque-Pérez spent 11 years in Africa at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria. She studied maize streak virus, a major agent of crop losses there, and helped plant breeders develop virus resistant corn varieties that have contributed to food security in many parts of the continent.

At the University of Idaho, work by Bosque-Pérez, her colleagues and students in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences focuses on barley yellow dwarf virus, which can reduce wheat yields by up to 20 percent.

“I’ve always had a strong interest in the interactions between insects that carry viruses, their host plants and the viruses that infect the plants,” she said. “I began doing research on this subject in Africa and continue it here.”

Her interest focuses on crops and in natural ecosystems, Bosque-Pérez said, and how viruses and insects move between those two. At Idaho, her collaboration with College of Agricultural and Life Sciences colleague Sanford Eigenbrode has allowed her to address more closely the chemical ecology component of plant-virus-vector interactions.

Breeding new varieties of wheat to resist the virus has proven more difficult than her earlier experience with corn, she said. Research that found plant viruses in turn altering insect behavior — by entomology doctoral student Laura Ingwell overseen by Bosque-Pérez and fellow entomologist Eigenbrode — led to the recent publication of their paper in the journal Scientific Reports.

Working with barley yellow dwarf virus, wheat plants and the aphids that carry the virus between plants, the team showed infected plants attract aphids that were not yet infected. Aphids already infected were attracted to non-infected wheat plants.

The research showed for the first time that the virus could manipulate the aphids increasing the potential for virus spread through a field more quickly. Their findings have implications for management of vectors and plant diseases in agricultural settings and help to understand the role plant viruses play in nature.

“I also collaborate with wheat breeders at the University of Idaho and Washington State University in the development of spring wheat varieties resistant to the Hessian fly and in the identification of molecular markers to accelerate breeding efforts,” she said.

Working with her University of Idaho students Sara Galbraith and Levi Keesecker, Bosque-Perez is also examining the influences that diverse agricultural land uses and secondary forests in Costa Rica have on native pollinators of plants.

Bosque-Pérez joins other scientists honored by the association while on the University of Idaho faculty. The fellows tradition began in 1874 to honor researchers for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

“Nilsa is truly worthy of this recognition,” said John Hammel, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean. She has played a significant leadership role in promoting graduate education and training within the University of Idaho. Just as important, she has always directed an innovative research program focused on solving critical agricultural issues.”
Past U-Idaho honorees include: 

  • University of Idaho President M. Duane Nellis, a geographical information systems (GIS) researcher
  • Carolyn Hovde Bohach, professor of food science in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences who directs the Idaho IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence
  • Researcher Gary Machlis of the College of Natural Resources
  • Fish and Wildlife Researcher J. Michael Scott of the College of Natural Resources
  • Chemists Jean’ne Shreeve and Malcolm Renfrew from the College of Science

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal Science. New AAAS fellows will be honored during the association’s annual meeting Feb. 16 in Boston.