Portrait photo of Dr Owain Edwards, CSIRO Entomology scientist.

Dr Owain Edwards is helping to protect Australia’s grain crops.

Dr Owain Edwards: Investigating how insects adapt to their environment

Dr Owain Edwards is applying his knowledge of insect ecology, evolutionary biology, and genomics to develop novel strategies to control pests, and to improve biodiversity management.

  • 18 February 2010 | Updated 11 December 2013

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History

Overview

Page 1 of 2

Current activities

Dr Owain Edwards’ research focuses on aphid-host plant interactions at the level of the organism (both aphid and plant) and the molecule, including work with colleagues in the International Aphid Genomics Consortium (IAGC) to characterise the components of aphid saliva.

Dr Edwards’ work as part of the IAGC also includes a focus on epigenetic regulation of aphid polyphenism, in particular the roles of DNA methylation and non-coding RNAs in modulating aphid development.

With collaborators at the University of Melbourne, Dr Edwards is investigating novel strategies to control invertebrate pests through better management of insecticide resistance, and by using new technologies such as RNAi (gene silencing).

With collaborators at the University of Western Australia, Dr Edwards is developing cutting edge genomics approaches to conduct rapid assessments of invertebrate biodiversity.

His current projects include:

  • identification and characterisation of the full complement of secreted proteins in pea aphid saliva
  • sequencing the pea aphid methylome, and identifying differences in DNA methylation between morphs
  • investigating the role of pea aphid non-coding RNAs and their associated proteins in regulating aphid developmental polyphenism
  • invasion genetics of the Russian wheat aphid, Diuraphis noxia
  • genetics of insecticide resistance in mites on grains in Western Australia
  • RNAi approaches to insect control
  • rapid invertebrate biodiversity assessments in Kimberley vine thickets using metagenomics techniques.

Background

Dr Edwards joined CSIRO in March 1998 to apply his expertise in insect biotypes to the study of aphids attacking Australian grain legumes.

He had first worked in entomology with Forestry Canada (1983-1986) as part of a co-operative student program, conducting sampling for the spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferanae) and the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar). This work sparked his ongoing interest in insect biological control.

Continuing his work in forest entomology, Dr Edwards studied the transmission of the pinewood nematode (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus) by a longhorned beetle vector, Monochamus carolinensis, for his Masters degree.

Dr Edwards uses next generation sequencing methods to monitor the spread of insecticide resistance genes in pest populations.

For his Doctorate Dr Edwards returned to the field of biological control, studying the population genetics of insecticide resistant populations of the walnut aphid parasite, Trioxys pallidus. This was his first experience in using molecular techniques to identify insect 'biotypes', and to monitor their dispersal in the field.

In 1994, Dr Edwards undertook postdoctoral work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, United States of America (USA), studying the biology and genetics of a parasitoid (Ageniaspis citricola). This insect was introduced as part of a classical biological control project against the citrus leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella).

In 1995, he moved to the US Department of Agriculture Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Laboratory to study factors controlling the establishment of natural enemies in classical biological control programs. Here he studied climatic adaptation of the parasitoid Macrocentrus grandii after its introduction into North America to control the European corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis.

Since joining CSIRO, Dr Edwards has expanded his research focus from questions of ecology and population genetics to include molecular biology, evolutionary biology, and genomics.  Dr Edwards is currently on the board of the International Aphid Genomics Consortium (representing Australasia) and is on the coordinating group of the i5K initiative to sequence 1000 insect genomes.

Academic qualifications

Dr Edwards has been awarded a:

  • Bachelor of Science with Honours in Zoology by the University of Guelph, Canada, 1987
  • Master of Science in Entomology by the University of Missouri-Columbia, USA, 1989 
  • Doctorate in Entomology at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, 1994. 

Read more information about CSIRO's work in the Evolutionary Biology Research Program.