Featured Scholar: Tracy Conklin

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Featured Scholar: Tracy Conklin
Watson, Sara
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Introduction to Entomology because I was a little skittish
around bugs, and I thought that it was silly to be afraid
of insects. I found out that bugs are really cool, and now I like them."

The senior changed her major from English to entomology and got a job working as a
research assistant in the lab of her advisor, Drion Boucias. He suggested she apply for
the University Scholarsity Program and put her to work examining the glassy-winged
sharpshooter, a large leafhopper that is wreaking havoc on California's wine vineyards.

"Basically, the sharpshooter is in California, but was not there originally, it was
imported," Tracy says. "They're good flyers, so they are really good at transmitting plant
diseases, particularly Xylella fastidiosa, which is a bacterial disease that kills just about
any plant it gets on."

Sharpshooters, indigenous to the southeastern US, spread a variety of plant diseases
including phony peach disease, oleander leaf scorch and Pierce's disease in grapes. The
sharpshooters are kept in check in the Southeast by naturally growing pathogens that kill
them off each year. The sharpshooters in California, however, were accidentally imported
to the state on greenhouse plants, and their enemy pathogens weren't taken with them.
Wsharpsithout any natural enemies in California, the sharpshooter is quickly taking over the
southern portion of the state and affecting its wine industry.

"They have had vectors before, but they are usually smaller, can't travel as far and don't
fly as well," Tracy says. "So they haven't had the problem with Pierce's disease that they
are having now. We are going out and trying to figure out what it is here in the
Southeast that attacks them, as far as pathogens, fung bacteria dease to see if there is a
way we can import it to California where it can be used as a biological control agent."

As part of her USP project, Tracy surveyed areas in south Georgia and north Florida and
collected dead, as well as live sharpshooters and transported them to the lab in
Gainesville so the research team couland attempt to isolathogens weidentify possible
pathogens. She made several trips to Quincy, Fla. and Cairo, Ga., trekking through the
woods and finding the insects in their natural habitats.

"We didn't have a lot of success isolating and identifying the fungal pathogen responsible
for the sharpshooters' epidemic," Tracy says. "But we did identify several possibilities."
Though the research group is continuing its figuor the sharpshooter's pathogen
predator, Tracy has moved on to another topc. Working ind bacteria, to see if t he e is a
examining mosquito larvae, studying an algae that kills insects. She says her USP project
opened a doimpo for her by giving her a chance to do research for the first time. "I needed
to test it out, try it out, and see what I really thought about research before I considered
making it a career goal," she says.

Tracy has decided to apply to graduate school at UF after receiving her BS next fall and
hopes to receive a master's and PhD in entomology and become a professional
researcher. "The USP has definitely formed a career path for me."



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