By Kimberly Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
New member of science academy
If good things come in threes, William Bowers can expect one more stroke of luck. said Bowers, a University of Arizona entomology professor. "I'm on a roll."
Bowers, 58, has received two honors this week. Yesterday, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. The academy was established by Congress to provide advice on scientific matters.
Membership in the academy, composed of scientists and engineers, is considered the highest accolade an American scientist can receive, he said.
"I'm thrilled," Bowers said. "It came as a complete surprise. But a recognition such as this comes only because of a great deal of work by students, post docs, (doctorate students) and people who have worked with me in my lab."
Bowers has taught entomology -- the study of insects -- at the UA for the past 10 years and is a major force within the field of insect science, said Henry Hagelhorn, acting head of the Entomology department.
"He has made numerous contributions that have been very important and have implications as tools for further research and insect control," Hagelhorn said. "He's an honored and respected member of the faculty."
Bowers received his bachelor's degree from Indiana University, and received his doctorate in entomology, biochemistry and physiology from Purdue University in 1962.
He recived a second honor last week at Purdue, where he was recognized as their distinguished alumnus of the year.
Still, entomology was not in Bower's career plans until he took a class his senior year at Indiana, he said.
"I became so excited about it that I asked if it was possible that someone could make a living studying insect hormones," he said. "I didn't think it would be possible, but I thought I would try."
He worked as an insect physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture until 1972, and taught at Cornell University until 1984 before coming to the UA. He has also spent time working in Kenya and China.
Bowers was instrumental in the 1964 discovery of juvenile hormone, which can keep insects in an immature developmental state. Plants produce similar hormones which interfere with insect growth.
He later discovered anti-juvenile hormone, which causes insects to become adults too soon, skipping crucial intermediate stages of development.
These hormones act as an insecticide, inhibiting an insect's development and reproductive capability.
The introduction of insect repellants has increased the world's health, Bowers said.
"Before we applied chemicals to agriculture, we never had surpluses of food," he said. "We lost hundreds of millions of people every year to diseases like malaria. We never had overpopulation, and had enormous death."
Although there are many safe insecticides available, these hormones may replace other synthetic repellants that have been questioned for their toxicity, Bowers said.
"Diseases like malaria and yellow fever occur in tropical, developing countries," Bowers said. "Repellants are extremely important, repellants they can afford are even more important. You can't just go out and spray the world."
Insects perfom a a crucial role in the health and welfare of the planet, Bowers said.
"If there is a dominant life form on this earth, it's insects," he said. "There may be as many as 20 million species of insects. It has the greatest impact on earth of animals. Their impact is, for the most part, extremely beneficial."
Bowers believes the UA's Entomology department is among the best in the world.
"I'm thrilled to have come to the university," he said. "We're prominently known and respected internationally. The Sonoran desert is a wonderful place to study insects." Read Next Article