Ronald J. Nachman has been named Distinguished Senior Research Scientist of 2012 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) for discoveries regarding insect neuropeptides that have opened the door to novel, environmentally sound strategies for controlling some of the most threatening agricultural pests. ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of USDA.
Nachman is a chemist and senior scientist at the Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center in College Station, Texas. He and other ARS researchers are being honored today at a ceremony in Beltsville, Md.
"Through his creativity, ingenuity and patient determination, Dr. Nachman has demonstrated how insects use neuropeptides to survive and how we can use those same neuropeptides as a basis for controlling them. With many insects developing resistance to available control treatments, the work is all the more crucial," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling.
Nachman and his collaborators were the first to show that insects use neuropeptides to regulate water balance, digestion, metabolism and early development. Neuropeptides are unusable in their natural forms because they are degraded by enzymes in the insect blood, tissues and gut. Nachman and his partners were the first to develop stable neuropeptide "mimics" unaffected by the enzymes, which is critical for disrupting the processes that neuropeptides regulate. They were also the first to develop modified neuropeptides that could penetrate the insect's protective exterior and gut wall, a necessity for potential treatments to take effect.
The work has proved to be instrumental in helping to enhance the effectiveness of insecticides, ward off mosquitoes, kill pea aphids, block production of reproductive pheromones in tobacco budworms and disrupt diapause in cotton bollworms, a tactic that forces them to commit a kind of "ecological suicide." Recognized as a world authority on insect neuropeptides, Nachman has co-edited four books on the subject, has mentored numerous students and visiting scientists and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.