TAMU Hosts Annual Forensic Entomology Conference

Charity Owings and Chris Reid at a microscope

Charity Owings shows Chris Reid how to properly mount a mite on a slide during a special acarology workshop.

COLLEGE STATION — The Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building on the Texas A&M campus was filled with ideas and findings from new research as forensic entomologists from around the world convened for the ninth annual North American Forensic Entomology Association meeting.

The organization’s main aim is to promote the development of forensic entomology throughout North America and to encourage cooperation with other similar international bodies. The mission is to provide a cooperative arena for forensic entomologists to interact and collaborate in ways that enhance the science, moral and ethical foundation, and reputation of forensic entomology.

The meeting was held from July 21-23 and showcased forensic entomology research from 12 nations including, but not limited to, Kuwait, Malaysia, Australia, and Germany.

Dr. Jeff Tomberlin speaking during a session.

Dr. Jeff Tomberlin speaking during a session.

“The best part of this conference was the collegial interactions of individuals from around the world,”  Dr. Jeff Tomberlin said. ”The room was brimming with excitement regarding advancements in decomposition ecology and its application in criminal investigations,”

A special workshop on acarology (i.e, mites and ticks) was organized by students and faculty within the Forensic and Investigative Sciences program at TAMU.  Student organizers Charity Owings and Meaghan Pimsler, together with Dr. Pete Teel discussed a general overview of acarology, the collection, processing and preparation of mite samples, and what to look for in making proper mite identifications.   Participants practiced what they learned through various hands-on exercises preparing slides and identifying specimens.

Meaghan Pimsler demonstrating how to capture a mite for observation.

Meaghan Pimsler demonstrating how to capture a mite for observation.

During the conference, speakers delivered 42 platform presentations and scientists presented 13 posters. The first session’s oral presentations were on the theme of succession in forensic entomology and covered such areas as decomposition and arthropod succession in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in Canada, and insect timing and succession on Buried Carrion in East Lansing, Michigan.  Other sessions included subjects such as molecular forensic entomology, ecology and microbiology, and development.

As a keynote speaker, Dr. Roger Gold, Endowed Professor, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, addressed the relationships between urban entomology and forensic science. Attendees used the breaks to view the various posters and discuss their content with the presenters.

The evening wrapped up with an awards presentation at the mixer held in the Benjamin Knox Gallery. A former participant in the Research Experience for Undergraduates: Expanding Scientific Investigation Through Entomology undergraduate student Michael Diaz, who conducted his NSF-funded research during the summer of 2010, received first place in the Non-Doctoral Student oral presentation. Diaz investigated the relationship between blow fly larval size size and time of dispersal from carrion as a means to improve estimates of time of colonization of carrion under the mentorship of Dr. Jeff Tomberlin.

Jason Byrd, right, shows Eric Benbow a poster during the break outside the auditorium.

Jason Byrd, right, shows Eric Benbow a poster during the break outside the auditorium.

In the Ph.D. division, Meaghan Pimsler received first place for her presentation titled “Bacteria Regulate Attraction and Colonization of a Resource by the Black Soldier Fly (Diptera: Stratiomyidae)”. Adrienne Brundage received second place for her oral presentation titled “Effects of Temporal Priority on Interactions Between Cochliomyia macellaria (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and Chrysomya rufifacies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) Larvae on a Carrion Resource”.   Both of these student are a member of Dr. Tomberlin’s research group, who exclaimed,”The students from Texas A&M did a phenomenal job representing their university, I am so proud of them.”

Friday’s sessions began with talks on the development, life history traits in forensically important fly species, PMI estimations, and succession in forensic entomology. Keynote speaker Dr. J.P. Masly of the University of Oklahoma led the after-lunch sessions with his presentation titled “Genetics, Genomics and Genitalia: Dissecting the molecular basis of species-specific morphology in Drosophila.” The concluding sessions then included topics on case studies, as well as topics on the current state of forensic entomology and final comments from Schoenly and Sherah VanLaerhoven.

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