National gold medal honors Gerhard Gries' insect expertise

Gerhard Gries, second from left with research associates l-r: Regine Gries, Stephen Takacs and Huimin Zhai.

October 26, 2017
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Gerhard Gries has won the Entomological Society of Canada’s 2017 Gold Medal for his outstanding contributions to entomology in Canada.

Gries, a professor of animal communication ecology, holds the NSERC-Industrial Research Chair in Multimodal Animal Communication Ecology at SFU.

Over the course of his 27-year career, and in collaboration with his students and collaborators, most notably research associate Regine Gries, his wife, Gries has unlocked many of the mysteries about how insects communicate, and how they perceive the environment.

His novel discoveries of insects’ chemical attractants (pheromones) and cues, as well as sonic, visual, infrared and bacterial communication signals, all have practical applications for improving how we manage and repel bedbugs, mosquitoes, cockroaches, moths and other insect pests.

Gries has identified the sex pheromones of 60 insect species, including 51 species of moths. He has also identified the aggregation pheromones of some 20 insect species. Aggregation pheromones attract insects of both sexes to the pheromone source.

Most exciting, says the Entomological Society, is his recent identification of the aggregation pheromone of bedbugs, a discovery that took eight years, a quarter-of-a-million bedbug-feedings on human volunteers, and chemical extractions from 180,000 insect samples. The research is currently being commercialized as a simple and effective tool for bedbug detection.

Gries also studies the chemical cues that insects use to find their food and other resources, leading to new ways of managing insects such as fruit flies, cockroaches, clothes moths, and moths that attack fruit or ornamental trees. His research group has also identified repellents for house flies and engineered a novel molecule that is repellent to a wide range of pest mosquitoes. Lures for fruit flies and for monitoring orchard and forest insect pests are already on the market, and Gries says there are patents for cockroach, clothes moth and mosquito attractants/repellents still to be commercialized.  

Nor is Gries’ work restricted to chemical studies. His group has demonstrated that sound signals can augment pheromones for mate-finding in several species of moths, while honey bees detect magnetic fields. Vibrations are an important communication media for spiders, while some insects use infrared radiation to find food.

He has trained 64 graduate students and published more than 250 articles in scientific journals.

Says Gries, ““I consider this gold medal a Gries-Laboratory award that recognizes the outstanding contributions of my students and research associates, and the fantastic support of my colleagues in biological sciences, chemistry and physics.”

Read more:

Bed bug control closer with Scotts Canada sponsorship

SFU husband-wife research duo nets international entomology award

SFU scientists help put bedbugs to bed forever