Benjamin van Raalte
Mauck lab: While working in commercial agriculture (hops, apples, and pears), I witnessed complete failures to control insect pests due to insecticide resistance and how reductions in the use of broad-spectrum pesticides lead to the emergence of new pest species. This demonstrated the urgent need to improve our understanding of pest insect biology and develop new tools for growers to manage insects that also advance environmental sustainability and worker safety. With those goals in mind, I joined Dr. Kerry Mauck’s lab at UCR to pursue a Ph.D. in entomology. I am excited to participate in the Plants3D program because it will support my long-term research and career goals by providing training and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. These collaborations with other Plants3D participants will facilitate diverse research approaches that lead to more holistic insect control measures. My current research is focused on developing low-cost, high-throughput tools to support breeding plants resistant to whiteflies (Bemisia tabaci MEAM1), a damaging insect pest that affects many important crops. My new whitefly resistance screening tool is being tested on five crop plants, including cassava, sweet potato, and cowpea, globally important sources of nutrition that have historically received insufficient research funding. I am also working on screening cantaloupe plants for whitefly resistance and characterizing those resistance mechanisms to support efforts to breed whitefly-resistant cantaloupe varieties for the California melon industry.