Andrew Forbes, a professor in the Department of Biology, will use funds from the National Science Foundation to further research on eukaryotic symbionts across insect communities.
Monday, June 3, 2024

By Alice Eberhart 

Andrew Forbes, a professor in the Department of Biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has received a $290,025 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue his research on eukaryotic symbionts across insect communities.  

This is a picture of Andrew Forbes

Forbes’s research will focus on symbiotic organisms such as fungi, mites, and nematode worms that live on or in insects. These groupings of organisms, unlike their bacterial counterparts, are understudied and lesser known—giving this project the possibility of uncovering previously unknown species. 

“There are millions of insect species on Earth, so if each has one or more unknown symbionts, these techniques may help discover a whole lot of new biodiversity,” Forbes said. 

Forbes and graduate student Christian Weinrich are currently developing genetic techniques that will allow them to quickly detect all symbiotic organisms within an insect.  

As their research progresses, their goal is to eventually screen large groups of insects at once, including samples from the University of Iowa’s Ashton Research Prairie.  

Forbes is interested in researching understudied groups of organisms. He focuses mainly on parasitic wasps, which he notes go unnoticed to the extent "that one ‘species’ may often actually be several when one takes the time to carefully look.” 

Deepening knowledge of insect communities and their symbiotic relationships may lead to uncovering many new species, including some with potential for important agricultural or human health applications, Forbes said. 

Forbes has been working at Iowa for 14 years, where he has enjoyed conducting research with his graduate and undergraduate students.  

“I have so many great colleagues in the arts, humanities, and sciences who have positively influenced my approach to teaching and research, often in surprising ways. I’ve found it a fulfilling and invigorating place to be a faculty member,” Forbes said.