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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Invasive Insect Biocontrol & Behavior Laboratory » People » Robert Harrison

Robert Harrison (Bob)

Research Molecular Biologist


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Contact:


Phone: (301) 504-5249
Fax: (301) 504-5104
10300 BALTIMORE AVENUE
BARC-WEST BLDG 007  Room 225
BELTSVILLE , MD 20705

Area of Expertise:

Invertebrate Virology

Insect Molecular Biology

Education:

Ph.D., Biochemistry, Texas A&M University, 1996

M.S., Biological Sciences, Southern Methodist University, 1989

B.A., Biology & Philosophy, Baylor University, 1987

My research focuses mostly on a group of insect-specific viruses known as baculoviruses, which are classified in the family Baculoviridae

These viruses form distinctive structures known as occlusion bodies, which contain the infectious particles of the virus within a protective crystalline matrix composed of a single viral protein. Hosts of baculoviruses are usually larvae of moths and butterflies, although some baculoviruses also have been found to infect sawflies and mosquitoes.

 

Baculovirus occlusion bodies forming in infected cells of the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) Sf9 cell line./ARSUserFiles/37171/69Ro3892008-50hpi.jpg

Occlusion bodies of a baculovirus from the true armyworm, Mythimna unipuncta Micrograph by Gary Bauchan./ARSUserFiles/37171/KY310    Plate B237_006.jpg

These viruses establish lethal infections and are the cause of naturally-occurring  epizootics in the field populations of their hosts, accompanied by dramatic population declines.  The occlusion bodies can be harvested from virus-killed insects and applied to control infestations of insect pests with no impact on other organisms.  For these reasons, baculoviruses are under active investigation and development as biological pesticides.

Over the course of decades, scientists at IIBBL have accumulated more than 2600 samples of insect viruses representing 142 different insect hosts and/or virus species.  We work to identify and classify baculoviruses in samples of interest, both from our collection and obtained from other sources, and characterize them with respect to their relationships with other viruses and their pathogenicity against significant agricultural pests, such as the fall armyworm and the gypsy moth.  This research has contributed to the development of a biopesticide, Fawligen, which is produced and marketed for use against fall armyworm and beet armyworm populations.

Droplet-feeding bioassay, testing baculovirus isolates against larvae of the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar).  Photo by Melody Keena./ARSUserFiles/37171/DSC_4646-crop1.jpg

Virions of an iflavirus from the brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys.  Micrograph by Joseph Mowery./ARSUserFiles/37171/HhV virions.jpg

We also study iflaviruses, which are found in a wide variety of arthropods.  These viruses can cause mortality and disease in their hosts, but in the brown marmorated stink bug and the gypsy moth, iflaviruses accumulate to very high levels without any obvious pathology.  We are interested in the impact these viruses are having on their hosts and in their interactions with baculoviruses. 

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