Research Geneticist (Insects)
USDA, ARS, CMAVE
1700 SW 23rd Drive
Gainesville, Florida 32608-1069
Dr. Handler is a Research Geneticist, a position he has held for 20 years. During his tenure with ARS, he has made numerous fundamental contributions to understanding and manipulating the genes of tephritid fruit flies, a group of invasive pests of great agricultural importance both in terms crop loss and the erection of trade barriers. He, along with visiting students and post-doctoral associates in his laboratory were among the pioneers of genetic transfer in fruit flies.
Following studies of P element transferability in related species of drosophilids, he utilized the piggyBac transposon to transform pest tephritids including the Caribbeanfruit fly (Anastrepha suspensa), Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) and oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis). He has since proposed new Conditional Autocidal techniques that promise to replace the irradiation of males, a means of inducing sterility that can seriously degrade the sexual performance of insects destined for SIT mass-releases.
Recently, Dr. Handler has turned his attention to eliminating the possibility of inadvertent horizontal transfer of exotic genes into non-target, populations and species. This danger has been a principal obstacle to the more widespread use of genetically modified insects in biologically-based control programs and its removal could contribute to a genetic-transformation renaissance in the field of entomology. He and colleagues have applied for a patent for a novel method of immobilizing transposons and so locking transferred genes into their new genome ("Systems for gene targeting and producing stable genomic transgene insertions").
Dr. Handler will continue with his studies underlying the production of autocidal strains. He will create piggyBac vectors with new fluorescent protein markers and conditional lethality constructs. He plans to initiate transformation experiments and conduct fitness and reproductive competitiveness studies for genetically marked insects. He will perform molecular analysis of conditional lethal transgenic strains, initiate phenotypic analysis and perform risk assessment for environmental impact statements. He will be particularly interested in additional molecular constructs that limit horizontal transfers in nature. This work will ultimately result in both new genetic tools for pest control, and also make their adoption by control programs more likely by providing a high degree of environmental safety.
Dr. Handler's collaboration with Dr. Shirk was featured in Gene Vectors: Agents of Transformation, Agricultural Research Magazine, April 1999, pp. 10-11.
Alan Robinson, Head, Entomology Unit, FAO/IAEA, Agriculture and Biotechnology Lab, Agency's Laboratories, Seibersdorf, Austria
Susan D. McCombs , Laboratory Director, USDA, APHIS, Waimanalo, Hawaii