As undergraduates, Nathan Martin ’13 and Kevin Moore ’15 spent two summers in Geneva conducting research on corn borer moths at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES). Working under the guidance of NYSAES Senior Research Associate Charles Linn, their efforts in the laboratory turned into the foundation for a paper recently published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology.
The article, “Flight Tunnel Response of Male European Corn Borer Moths to Cross-Specific Mixtures of European and Asian Corn Borer Sex Pheromones: Evidence Supporting a Critical Stage in Evolution of a New Communication System,” showed that male European corn borer moths were able to respond to a mixture of pheromones derived from both European and Asian female corn borer moths.
“What’s important is that the research shows that the concept of signal specificity in males is broader than we had previously thought,” Linn says. “It substantiates the model that ‘odd,’ or broadly responding, are able to track and respond to a variety of pheromone mixtures.”
By showing that the male moths are able to detect the various pheromone mixtures and respond to them, Linn says that it extends the understanding of the variability in the male response to the pheromones, including that of other species. Based on the findings, Linn says one can hypothesize that there once must have been a time before the two species became isolated when males and females could respond to a variety of mixed pheromones.
At the NYSAES, both Martin and Moore assessed upwind flight responses of the European corn borer moths against varying pheromone blends. Both of them also gave poster presentations of the research during Homecoming and Family Weekend.
Linn says the project was a significant opportunity for Martin and Moore, as undergraduates, to conduct hands-on research in a laboratory setting. He says one of the goals is to have a rewarding experience.
“I want the students to come here and interact and get a glimpse of what the world of research is like,” Linn says. “I don’t think there’s any question that it gives students confidence.”
Martin and Moore joined the research project with support from the Rickey Summer Research Scholarship. Since 2009, the Brenda and David Rickey Foundation has funded the research of HWS students at NYSAES.
“Following this project, I continued research by performing an independent study with Associate Professor of Biology Kristy Kenyon,” Martin says. “It acted as a springboard and I have been in an active research position since I graduated from HWS.”
Martin is a research associate in the Environmental Studies Laboratory at Keene State College, where his work focuses on understanding the physical, chemical and toxicological characteristics of biodiesel and diesel combustion emissions. He hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology or immunotoxicology.
“This experience influenced me profoundly,” Moore says. “It was the first time that I had the chance to conduct a formal research experiment. It taught me the importance of paying fine attention to detail, problem-solving and maintaining meticulous records.”
Currently, Moore is a graduate student in the Buffalo School of Dental Medicine.
“This experience helped me to become an even more competitive applicant for dental school applications, which is a very rigorous process,” Moore says.
To help maintain the corn borer colony at NYSAES, Moore also worked with Callie Musto, a Cornell lab technician and co-author of the paper.
In the photos above, Nathan Martin ’13 (top) and Kevin Moore ’15 present their work on corn borer moths.