CHAPEL HILL – Fred Gould, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Entomology at North Carolina State University, received the O. Max Gardner Award today (Friday, April 13) from the Board of Governors of the multi-campus University of North Carolina. Widely recognized as one of the top entomologists in the world today, Gould studies the ecology and genetics of insect pests in order to improve food production and human and environmental health. His work has revolutionized global efforts to achieve sustainable food security and to combat or prevent insect-borne epidemics.
The awards, given annually since 1949, were established by the will of Gov. Oliver Max Gardner to recognize faculty who have “made the greatest contributions to the welfare of the human race.” It is the only award for which all faculty members of the 17 UNC campuses are eligible. Recipients are nominated by their chancellors and selected by the Board of Governors. The 2012 award carries a $20,000 cash prize and was presented by Board of Governors Chairman Hannah Gage and Gardner Award Committee Chairman Paul Fulton of Chapel Hill.
A member of the NC State faculty since 1978, Gould holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Queens College (NY) and a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He joined the NC State faculty as a research associate in entomology shortly after earning his doctorate and rose through the academic ranks before being named Reynolds Professor in 1993. Since 2002, he also has served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Genetics.
The ability to genetically modify crop plants using DNA technology is revolutionizing agriculture in the United States and elsewhere. Gould’s early research played a major role in determining how this technology could be used to protect crops from insect pests, and the first insect-resistant crops were introduced commercially in 1996. Gould recognized early on that the full potential of genetically engineered crops to reduce pesticide use and increase sustainable crop production would not be realized if target insects were able to adapt to overcome the crops’ pest-resistant traits, and his research has been instrumental in shaping the regulatory policies and strategies that are now used around the world to mitigate the risk of pest adaptation.
Over the past five years, Gould has transitioned his research from genetically engineered crops to genetically modified insects. In particular, he is focusing on a species of mosquito that is known to carry diseases such of dengue fever and malaria. He and his research team are working to develop genetically modified strains of the mosquito that are unable to transmit the dengue virus and that could pass on this disease-resistant trait if released into wild mosquito populations. Such engineered evolution could in turn help suppress the spread of these dread diseases in developing countries.
Within the past year, Dr. Gould’s efforts have culminated in the development of an interdisciplinary graduate program in genetic pest management at NC State. It involves the study of genetics, ecology, molecular and cell biology, ethics, and economics, and is the first program in the world designed to train students in both the science and the social issues associated with biological and genetic interventions. It essentially asks students to consider how we can safely and effectively intervene biologically in the natural world to make the world a better place for humans and other species. The new program is supported by a five-year, $3-million grant from the National Science Foundation.
In recognition of his vast contributions, Dr. Gould was elected last year into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most important scientific societies. Fewer than 10 current members of the NC State faculty are members of the Academy. He also was awarded the 2010-11 Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal for Excellence, NC State’s highest award for faculty achievement. In 2004, he received the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation Award, which is presented annually to the person judged to have made the most significant contribution to American agriculture during the previous five years.