Perspectives Online

Gould wins prestigious Von Humboldt Award

Entomologist Fred Gould
Entomologist Fred Gould received the Alexander von Humboldt Award in recognition of his groundbreaking research on insects' development of resistance to Bt crops. The award goes to the person judged to have made the most significant contribution to American agriculture during the previous five years.
(Herman Lankford)
Dr. Fred Gould, an entomologist whose work has played a pivotal role in determining how best to use emerging, transgenic pest management technology, has won the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award for 2004.

The award is presented annually to the person judged to have made the most significant contribution to American agriculture during the previous five years. With the award comes a $15,000 cash prize which will be donated to the NCSU library and the NCSU Entomology Department for specific programs. In addition, a student at the recipient's institution is chosen to receive a $5,000 Alfred Toepfer scholarship to be used to study agriculture in Germany. Melanie Bateman, a doctoral student from Weaverville, who is studying entomology-behavioral biology, will receive this scholarship. She plans to use it to study plant defense chemicals at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.

Gould, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Entomology, was recognized for groundbreaking work on the development by insects of resistance to so-called Bt crops. He and his colleagues also developed strategies to help ensure that insects do not develop resistance.

Bt crops are among the most successful of transgenic crops. Such crops contain genes from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium. The genes produce a toxin that kills caterpillars that feed on crops such as corn and cotton.

The first Bt crops were introduced in 1996. Since then, Bt corn and cotton have been embraced by farmers. The plants effectively contain their own insecticide, so farmers are able to reduce insecticide use significantly. In 2003, Bt crops were grown on nearly 45 million acres.

Gould was among the first to show that insects could develop resistance to transgenic crops, while he and colleagues then developed strategies to keep insects from developing resistance.

Gould was nominated for the Humboldt Award by fellow William Neal Reynolds Professor of Entomology Dr. George Kennedy. Gould's work, Kennedy writes in the nomination, "was instrumental in forcing both the biotechnology industry and plant protection experts to re-evaluate their strategies for deploying Bt genes for crop protection."

Gould and colleagues investigated a number of strategies to delay evolution of resistance and settled on one approach that was conceptually simple and feasible to implement: plant nontransgenic with transgenic crops. The nontransgenic plants serve as a refuge where Bt-susceptible insects will survive and mate with any insects that have developed resistance. The offspring of these unions will be susceptible, ensuring that the population remains susceptible.

This strategy has proved so successful that farmers who grow Bt crops are now required to plant refuges of nontransgenic crops, and there has not been an instance of resistance to Bt crops.

Gould also helped inform national policy toward biotechnology by serving on several committees of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council that dealt with biotechnology issues. Most recently, he chaired the Committee on Environmental Effects of Commercialization of Transgenic Plants in 2000-2001. He also served on an Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Subcommittee on Resistance Management and briefed the U.S. State Department's Undersecretary for Global Affairs on the risks associated with genetically engineered crops.

Gould joined the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty in 1978 as a research associate. He was named a William Neal Reynolds Professor in 1993. He holds a bachelor of science in biology from the City University of New York and a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

He is the second member of the faculty to receive the Humboldt Foundation Award. Dr. Wayne Skaggs, William Neal Reynolds and Distinguished University Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, won the award in 1997.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation was established in 1959 by Dr. Alfred Toepfer, a German grain merchant and philanthropist. The foundation and the award are named for a 19th century geographer and natural scientist.

-Dave Caldwell