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Pioneering Agricultural Research Service Entomologist Edward F. Knipling Dies / March 23, 2000 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Dr. Edward F. Knipling,
March 20, 1909 – March 17, 2000

Edward F.Knipling

Pioneering Agricultural Research Service Entomologist Edward F. Knipling Dies

By Hank Becker
March 23, 2000

WASHINGTON, March 23—Celebrated entomologist Edward F. Knipling, who pioneered research to develop pesticide-free ways to protect livestock and crops from the devastating effects of insects, died March 17 at his home in Arlington, Va., from cancer at the age of 90. Knipling retired from USDA's Agricultural Research Service in 1973 after 42 years with the Department, but had continued to work with ARS as a research collaborator. ARS is the chief research agency of USDA.

Working with ARS colleague Raymond C. Bushland, Knipling pioneered the sterile male insect technique to suppress insect pests. This technique involves irradiating male insects, then turning them loose to mate with wild fertile female insects. These matings do not produce fertilized eggs, so numbers of insect offspring plummet dramatically.

Screwworm

Read more about Knipling's role in insect control in Agricultural Research magazine:

Knipling and Bushland first developed the technique to combat screwworm flies, whose flesh-eating maggots parasitize livestock, wildlife and humans. The technique resulted in the eradication of the wild screwworm population in the United States, Mexico and parts of Central America, saving the North American livestock industry millions of dollars annually and winning praise from environmentalists.

Today, Knipling's technique is used worldwide to eradicate outbreaks of other pests such as Mediterranean fruit flies. In Africa, the technique is used to control the tsetse fly, which spreads sleeping sickness.

Knipling also is considered the "founding father" of the concept of areawide integrated pest management.

Realizing that for most pests total eradication is not feasible, in the early 1980s Knipling developed the concept of using specific insect parasites, predators, and other tactics over a broad area to keep pest populations below the point where they impose a financial burden on farmers and ranchers. Kept at low levels, the pests would be more responsive to biological, rather than chemical control.

Today, Knipling's areawide concept has grown to include not only parasites and predators as weapons against crop pests, but also other environmentally friendly tactics, such as mating disruption and insect attractants.

"Dr. Edward F. Knipling was truly a giant in the world of science," said Floyd P. Horn, ARS Administrator. "His innovation and foresight have not only tremendously benefited agriculture and the environment for many years through reduced reliance on chemical controls, but also have saved people around the world from great misery by eliminating or controlling pests that spread disease."

For his numerous contributions to science and agriculture, Knipling won praise, awards and tributes from many sources worldwide. In November 1999, Progressive Farmer magazine named him among 21 scientific pioneers who most shaped American agriculture in the past 100 years.

In 1995, Knipling was awarded the prestigious Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan and was honored at a state dinner hosted by the Emperor of Japan.

His other awards include the National Medal of Science in 1996, the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1971 and the USDA Distinguished Service Award in 1960.

In 1967, President Johnson awarded him the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest recognition for contributions to science. In 1966, Knipling was selected by Princeton University for the Rockefeller Public Service Award for distinguished public service in the field of science. In 1986, he was inducted into the ARS Science Hall of Fame for his research on the sterile insect technique and other technologies to suppress and manage insect pests.

Knipling began his career with USDA as a field aide in Mexico studying bollworms. Later, while on assignments in Iowa, Georgia and Texas, he conducted research on various pests of livestock. From 1953 to 1971, he was the director of USDA's entomology division. During World War 11, he worked on developing insecticides and repellents for the military. In 1971, he was appointed science advisor for ARS.

Edward F. Knipling was born in Port Lavaca, Texas, where he worked on his father's farm. He graduated from Texas A&M University at College Station and received his master's degree and Ph.D. in entomology from Iowa State University at Ames.

Contact: Office of the Administrator, ARS, USDA, Washington, D.C., telephone (202) 720-3656.

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Last Modified: 8/28/2002
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