At Berea College, (left
to right) ARS program analyst
Heather Phelps and students
Laurie Hewitt, Kelly Cutchin,
Chloe Tewksbury, and Karen
Friley take a break from
working in the greenhouse.
| The husky sport-utility vehicle
looks rugged enough to go just about anywhere. But...the steering wheel's on
the wrong side.
Welcome to Australia, where drivers take the right-hand seat, seasons are the
opposite of those back home, and people enjoy a peculiar-looking,
yeast-and-vegetable paste called Vegemite.
For two young women who traveled from southern Appalachia halfway around the
world to work for 4 months at the ARS
Australian Biological Control Laboratory, getting acclimated to the culture,
climate, and customs was all part of their grand adventure in science.
Kelly L. Cutchin and Laurie H. Hewitt are top students at Berea College,
located in the rural Kentucky town of the same name. Voted one of the nation's
best regional liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report in
1999, Berea is among the 10 U.S. institutions that belong to the Consortium of
Agriculture Programs at Independent Colleges and Universities.
The internshipsnewly offered by ARS' Office of International Research
Programstook Kelly and Laurie to Indooroopilly, about 500 miles north of
Sydney. Jointly operated by ARS and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, the Australian Biological Control
Laboratory is home base for innovative indoor and field investigations of
interesting beetles, flies, and other creatures.
Says entomologist and laboratory director John A. Goolsby, "We're finding
out whether any of these organisms could be safely imported into the United
States to help stop the spread of invasive, exotic plants, like Old World
climbing fern or melaleuca. These plants aren't a problem in Australia, where
they're native. But they're ruinous in America."
Kelly's and Laurie's main assignment was to comb woodlands along Australia's
east coast for an odd treasure: melaleuca galls. About the size of a marble,
these knobs can house small flies and even smaller, wormlike nematodes that
Goolsby and colleagues suspect could be used to undermine melaleuca's advance
in places like Florida's Everglades.
At first accompanied by Goolsbyor by entomologists Jeffrey Makinson or
Matthew F. Purcell of CSIROKelly and Laurie became proficient enough to
work on their own, making countless forays every week into the countryside, or
"bush," to harvest galls. In all, they collected more than 8,000
gallsa remarkable haul. Back at the lab, they helped painstakingly box
and ship this biological control booty to Florida, where ARS researchers are
following up with additional tests (see story, page 26).
The American scholars also aided with host-specificity tests, which are needed
to determine whether promising biological control agents attack only the target
plantand don't wander off to eat or make a home in others. And the
interns pitched in with routine chores like watering plants and carefully
flattening, or pressing, plant specimens for safekeeping at an herbarium.
At about the same time that Kelly and Laurie started their internships, two
other Bereans were finishing up 3 months of work at ARS' European Biological
Control Laboratory (EBCL). Located on the outskirts of Montpellier, on France's
southeastern coast, EBCL "offers a wealth of scientific expertise and
hands-on experience in the field of biological insect and weed control,"
says laboratory director Paul C. (Chuck) Quimby, Jr.
Berea intern Chloe E. Tewksbury worked with EBCL plant pathologist Timothy L.
Widmer, lead scientist on a project to collect, describe, and test
microorganisms with potential to biologically control invasive plants, such as
yellow starthistle. This weed can poison horses and crowd out useful
"Chloe looked at the infection caused by fungi known as
Alternaria," says Widmer. "She also helped extract, or
isolate, this fungus from plants."
Berea teammate Karen L. Friley helped EBCL entomologist Kim A. Hoelmer collect
and rear beneficial Peristenus stygicus wasps. These insects lay eggs in
the juvenile, or nymph, stages of Lygus bugs, a sap-sucking pest of many
Hoelmer's U.S. collaborators plan to mass-rear and release the little wasps to
battle Lygus bugs in alfalfa in Delaware and California and in cotton in
California and Mississippi.
Quimby and Goolsby give rave reviews about the quality and quantity of the
interns' work. Montpellier scientists worked with two other Berea
internsJennifer L. Barth and Stephanie R. Greenin January. The
Australian lab plans to host another team of Berea interns for a 3-month stint
later this year, according to Heather M. Phelps at the Office of International
Research Programs. Phelps directs the Berea internship program.By
Suszkiw, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Crop Protection and Quarantine, an ARS National
Program (#304) described on the World Wide Web at
To reach scientists mentioned in this story, contact
Marcia Wood, phone (510) 559-6070,
fax (510) 559-5882.