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Legume-Aphid-Virus Research

Research Assistant Studying Legume-Aphid-Virus Interactions 

Internship Details

  • Mentor: David Crowder, Associate Professor of Entomology
  • Location: WSU Main Campus, Pullman, WA
  • Dates: May 29 – August 2
  • Stipend: $4,500. (Housing Provided. Costs of Travel Covered.)


Chickpeas, lentils, and dry peas are integral specialty crops for agricultural production in Eastern Washington. However, control of pests and plant pathogens requires intensive use of pesticides to prevent yield losses. Pea aphids, and the devastating viruses they transmit, are one of the most threatening pests of cultivated legumes on the Palouse. Unfortunately, it is still extremely difficult to predict outbreaks of pea aphids and emergence of viral pathogens within a given growing season or at a given location. The goal of this project is to continuously collect and study insects from farms and natural areas believed to harbor large populations of pea aphids. Working with cooperating growers and land conservationists, we will narrow down the relationship between outbreaks at multiple locations, and determine the key plant species that support aphid and virus outbreaks (we anticipate weedy legumes to be key hosts that contribute to virus outbreaks in crops). Data from this experiment will help build a predictive framework, using time-series models, to help growers better anticipate pest outbreaks. The outputs of this research experience will not only benefit Washington specialty crops, it could also reduce the need for preventative chemical control. In total, this would help local agricultural production to meet future sustainability goals. 

Learning Outcomes

This project is highly interdisciplinary. The intern will get training in field biology and agricultural extension, entomology, plant virology, and biostatistics. No prior experience in fieldwork, molecular biology, or data analysis required, but these skills will be highly valued. The goal of this internship will be to build on the strengths of the candidate. 

This internship will provide an opportunity for a student to do a combination of field and lab work. He/she will continuously visit legume crop fields thorough the summer as part of an ongoing project examining local “hot spots” for pea aphids and the viruses they transmit to plants. He/she will visit field sites at regular intervals in Eastern Washington (vehicle provided) to collect insects and plant tissue along with a team of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The student will be trained how to test these plant and insect samples for viruses using molecular tools in the laboratory. Thus, the student will be highly versed in commonly used field and lab techniques, setting them up well for future research endeavors. The resulting data will be analyzed using time-series statistics. We anticipate the weekly schedule to be M-F 9am-5pm, with some time-sensitive fieldwork required on the weekend. A typical day would include a morning field trip to pick up samples on a nearby farm, then processing samples and preparing them for molecular analysis in the afternoon.