Student Research Spotlight - Kevin Cloonan

Posted: May 2, 2014

This is the First of twelve short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Sex, 'Shrooms, and Pesky Flies

By Kyle Burks

Kevin Cloonan, a PhD student in the department of entomology at the university, leads a new study that aims to disrupt the mating behavior of the sciarid fly to control their population. Little is known about the sciarid fly, which is a type of fungus fly that has been wreaking havoc in Pennsylvania mushroom houses and is taking a bite out of the multimillion dollar industry. Sometimes referred to as the mushroom capital of the world, Pennsylvania produces more mushrooms than any other state in the U.S.

“Fundamental research like this hasn't been done for this entire family of flies," said Cloonan. Other types of fungus flies have been the focus of previous research, but the methods that control those pests have been useless against the sciarid fly.

Many insects use a type of chemical attractant specific to each species, called a sex pheromone, to locate potential mates. The new research focuses on identifying the pheromone of the sciarid fly, and then using it to lure romantically-minded fungus flies into traps. These traps can be used to both monitor the population of flies in a mushroom house and to outright kill flies.

Up to this point, sciarid flies have been difficult to work with and no one has been able to create a test to determine what kind of pheromones these flies may use. A recent breakthrough by Cloonan, however, has made research into this area possible. Cloonan has specially designed a trapping system which can be used to determine if certain compounds attract or repel the flies. “Then we can use this assay to perform behavioral tests to isolate the sex pheromone,” said Cloonan. Where does the research go from here? As soon as the new test identifies and isolates the pheromone, Cloonan plans to put it to use against the little pests.