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Walter Leal


Recently named the 2007 recipient of the Silverstein-Simeone Award in Chemical Ecology by the International Society of Chemical Ecology (ISCE), Leal has identified and synthesized complex pheromones and attractants from many insects over the last two decades, including scarab beetles, true bugs, longhorn beetles, moths, and mosquitoes.


His research is at the very frontier of chemical ecology. He discovered a sophisticated mechanism for the isolation of the chemical communication channels of two species of scarab beetles in Japan.  He demonstrated that inhibition of a pheromone-degrading enzyme in vivo led to anosmia in a species of scarab beetle, the first direct evidence to support the theory that fast inactivation of pheromones is an enzymatic process.


More recently, Leal succeeded in isolating, cloning and expressing a pheromone-degrading enzyme from the wild silkmoth, Antheraea polyphemus. The Proceedings of the National, Academy of Sciences (PNAS) spotlighted his discovery in its September 2006 edition. Up to then, the puzzle had challenged neurobiologists for more than three decades. Leal also isolated a pheromone-degrading enzyme from the Japanese beetle and provided not only evidence for the role of these enzymes in the rapid inactivation of pheromones, but also in chiral discrimination.


Leal received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in his native Brazil and advanced degrees from universities in Japan: his master’s degree in agricultural chemistry from Mie University, and his doctorate in applied biochemistry from the University of Tsukuba.


Before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2000, Leal served as research leader of the Science and Technology Agency of Japan and the Bio-Oriented Technology Research Advancement Institute (BRAIN) and head of the Laboratory of Chemical Prospecting at the National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Sciences in Tsukuba.


He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; a past president of ISCE; and secretary and upcoming chair-elect of Section B, the Physiology, Biochemistry, Toxicology, and Molecular Biology section of the Entomological Society of America (ESA).


In recognition of his research, he won the Technology Prize (Gijitsusho) of the Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology and Agrochemistry in 1994; the Medal of Honor from the Entomological Society of Brazil in 1995; the Gakkaisho (equivalent to a Fellow) from the Japanese Society of Applied Entomology and Zoology in 1998; the Recognition Award in Insect Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology from the Pacific Branch of ESA in 2002; and was inducted member of the Honor Society of Agriculture Gamma Sigma Delta.

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