Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology

Nancy Beckage

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Phone: (951) 827-3521
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Email: nancy.beckage@ucr.edu

Nancy Beckage

BS Zoology 1972: University of Wisconsin & PhD Zoology 1980: University of Washington


Research Specialization - My undergraduate career began at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, followed by University of Wisconsin-Madison where I received my B.S. degree in Zoology. I received the Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle. During my graduate work I became fascinated with the subject of host-parasite interactions and became immersed in their biology. I focused on hormonal interactions between parasites and hosts, focusing on the interactions between insect parasitoids (parasitic wasps that parasitize other insects and ultimately kill their hosts) and lepidopteran hosts, using the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta, and the braconid endoparasitoid wasp Cotesia congregata, as a model system. Many parasitoids are used in biological control of many important agricultural insect pests, and as problems with evolution of pesticide resistance in pest populations are becoming increasingly severe, a refocusing of attention on biologically-based methods of pest control has recently emerged in entomology. Following my Ph.D., I moved to the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI), a human parasitology research institute, where I developed deep appreciation of the amazing tricks parasites such as malaria, trypanosomes, and leishmania play in interacting with insect vectors and human hosts to cause disease. At SBRI I undertook studies of parasitism-induced host hemolymph proteins, and identified the parasitoid’s polydnavirus as the genome encoding some of these proteins.

The amazing complexities involved in suppressing host immunity to facilitate successful parasitism would later become a second focus of my research career when I moved back to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a faculty member in the Department of Entomology and USDA Research Entomologist. In 1990 I moved to the University of California-Riverside where I currently hold a joint appointment as Professor in the Departments of Entomology & Cell Biology and Neuroscience. I am continuing to study host-parasitoid interactions, but also I have recently moved into the mosquito world to study interactions between fungal pathogens and various mosquitoes (Culex species that are vectors of West Nile Virus, and Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever and dengue vector). Our mosquito research also includes designing new biologically-based strategies for mosquito vector control using new insect growth regulators and other environmentally friendly alternative methods that have minimal detrimental impact on human and animal health as well as the environment.

Student mentorship is a major ongoing effort in my lab. A USDA/CSREES funded Higher Education Challenge Grant program carried out in collaboration with Professor Florence Dunkel of Montana State University and three other universities sponsors student training projects to implement some of these new methodologies in West Africa. Students based at UC-Riverside and university partners conduct projects to control malaria and other disease vectors in the developing world, and pursue agricultural and engineering projects with Malian scientists, engineers and village members in Sanambele and other villages in Mali. Sidy Ba, a Malian engineer, is now a Ph.D. student at UC-Riverside in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and will assist in mentoring students in this program.

I enjoy writing and even once considered a career in science journalism. My edited books include “Parasites and Pathogens of Insects. Vol. 1: Parasites. Vol. II. Pathogens” (with co-editors B.A. Federici and S.N. Thompson, Academic Press) in 1993, “Parasites and Pathogens: Effects on Hormones and Behavior” (Chapman and Hall, 1997) , and “Insect Immunology” (Academic Press/Elsevier, 2008). I have also published general interest articles focusing on the fascinating biology of polydnaviruses in Scientific American and Bioscience. Our work on parasitoids has been featured in the popular press book Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer (2000), Chronicle of Higher Education, National Geographic, several textbooks, the BBC film series “Alien Empire” and several television features.

In 2008 I received an honorary Ph.D. from ETH Zurich in Switzerland, a renowned science and technology university in Europe, in recognition of lifetime contributions in insect endocrinology, immunology, and the field of host-parasitoid interactions. Other honors include election as an ESA Fellow in 2003, receipt of the University of California-Riverside Chancellor’s Faculty Award in Excellence of Mentorship of Undergraduate Research in 2005, and in being elected in 2009 to Who’s Who in America and in 2010 to Who’s Who in the World.


The braconid wasp Cotesia congregata has evolved an intimate relationship with a genetic symbiont, a large double-stranded DNA polydnavirus (Cotesia congregata bracovirus or CcBV), which is integrated the wasp chromosomes, and undergoes excision and replication in the wasp ovary calyx cells. The ovary cells lyse and release virions into the lumen of the reproductive tract. The virus particles together with eggs are injected into the host’s hemolymph during wasp oviposition, and currently we are studying viral gene transcripts and the role they play in causing host hemocyte apoptosis developmental arrest, with the goal in mind to use those genes for designing new biotechnological approaches to insect pest control, using transgenic plants, genetically modified pathogens, or other strategies in developing new biotechnological approaches to pest control.


Edited Books

  • Beckage, N.E. 2008. “Insect Immunology” Academic Press/Elsevier.
  • Beckage, N.E. 1997. "Parasites and Pathogens: Effects on Host Hormones and Behavior" Chapman and Hall.
  • Beckage, N.E., Thompson, S.N., and Federici, B.A. 1993. "Parasites and Pathogens of Insects", Vol. 1: Parasites, Vol. 2: Pathogens. Academic Press.

Edited Journal Special Issues

  • Beckage, N.E. and Stanley, D.W. 2008. Guest editor, special issue of Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology “Parasitoid Polydnaviruses: Genomes and Physiological Functions" 67:155-209.
  • Beckage, N.E. 2008. Guest editor, special issue of Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology on “Parasitoid Polydnaviruses: Genomes and Physiological Functions.” In press.
  • Palli, S.R., Webb, B.A. and Beckage, N.E. 2007. Guest editor, special issue of Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology “In Honour of Lynn M. Riddiford” Vol. 37: 739-890.
  • Beckage, N.E. and Reynolds, S.E. 2007. Guest editor, special issue of Journal of Insect Physiology focusing on “Physiology of Vector Arthropods” Vol. 53: 205-284.
  • Beckage, N.E. 2005. Guest editor, special issue of Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology on “Physiological and Behavioral Host-Parasitoid Interactions: Future Visions.” Vol. 60: 151-235.
  • Beckage, N.E. 2003. Guest editor, special issue of Journal of Insect Physiology on "Insect Polydnaviruses: Evolution and Physiological Functions." Vol. 49:395-543.

Articles for General Interest Audiences

  • Beckage, N.E. 1997. Parasitoids and polydnaviruses. BioScience 48: 305-311.
  • Beckage, N.E. 1997. The parasitic wasp's secret weapon. Scientific American 77: 32-37.

Selected Publications

  • Beckage, N.E. 2009. Immunology. In: "Encyclopedia of Insects" (edited by V. Resh and R. Carde) Academic Press/Elsevier. In Press.
  • Butler, C.D., Beckage, N., Trumble, J.T. 2009. Effects of terrestrial pollutants on insect parasitoids. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 28: 1111–1119.
  • Gordillo, A.R. and Beckage, N.E. 2008. Fungi as biological controls of insect disease vectors. Microbiology Today 35: 104.
  • Rodriguez-Perez, M.A. and Beckage, N.E. 2008. Comparison of three methods of parasitoid genomic DNA isolation to facilitate polydnavirus genomic sequencing. Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology 67: 202-209.
  • Beckage, N.E. 2008. Parasitoid polydnaviruses and insect immunity. In: “Insect Immunology” (edited by N.E. Beckage) pp. 243-270. Academic Press/Elsevier.
  • Schmidt, O., Theopold, U., and Beckage, N.E. 2008. Insect and vertebrate immunity: Key similarities vs. differences. In: “Insect Immunology” (edited by N.E. Beckage) pp. 1-23. Academic Press/Elsevier.
  • Dorn, S., and Beckage, N.E. 2007. Superparasitism in gregarious hymenopteran parasitoids: ecological, behavioural and physiological perspectives. Physiological Entomology 32: 199-211.
  • Rodriguez-Perez, M.A., and Beckage, N.E. 2006. Co-evolucion de parasitoids y polydnavirus [Co-evolution of parasitoids and polydnaviruses] Revista Latinoamerica de Microbiologia 48: 31-43 [In Spanish with English abstract].
  • Webb B.A., N.E. Beckage, Y. Hayakawa, P.J. Krell, B. Lanzrein, M.R. Strand, D.B. Stoltz, M.D. Summers. 2005. Polydnaviridae. In: “Virus Taxonomy: VIII Report of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses” (C.M. Fauquet, M.A. Mayo, J. Maniloff, U. Desselberger, L.A. Ball, eds.) Elsevier, pp. 253-259.
  • Rodriguez, M.A., Dumpit, R., Lenz, J., Powell, E., Tam, S., and Beckage, N.E. 2005. Host refractoriness of the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta, to the braconid endoparasitoid Cotesia flavipes. Arch. Insect Biochem. Physiol. 60: 159-171.
  • Amaya, K.E., Asgari, S., Jung, R., Hongskula, M., and Beckage, N.E. 2005. Parasitization of Manduca sexta larvae by the parasitoid wasp Cotesia congregata induces an impaired host immune response. J. Insect Physiol. 51:505-512.
  • Beckage, N.E., Marion, F.M., and Tan, F.F. 2004. Comparative larvicidal toxicities of three ecdysone agonists on the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti, Culex quinquefasciatis, and Anopheles gambiae. Arch. Insect Biochem. Physiol. 57:111-122.
  • Beckage, N.E. and Gelman, D.B. 2004. Wasp parasitoid disruption of host development: Implications for new biologically based strategies for insect control. Ann. Rev. Entomol. 49: 299-330.
  • Le, N.T., Asgari, S., Amaya, K., Tan, F.F. and Beckage, N.E. 2003. Persistence and expression of Cotesia congregata polydnavirus in host larvae of the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta. J. Insect Physiol. 49: 533-543.
  • Beckage, N.E., Hongskula, M., Vickerman, D. and Tan, F.F. 2003. Development of the solitary braconid endoparasitoid Cotesia marginiventris in the sphingid host, Manduca sexta. J. Invert. Pathol. 83: 253-256.
  • Beckage, N.E. 2003. Immunology. In: "Encyclopedia of Insects." (V. Resh and R. Carde). Pp. 555-560, Academic Press.
  • Beckage. N.E. and Tan, F.F. 2002. Development of the braconid wasp Cotesia congregata in a non-habitual noctuid host, Trichoplusia ni. J. Invert. Pathol. 81: 49-52.
  • Beckage, N.E. 2002. Parasite- and pathogen-mediated manipulation of host hormones and behavior. In: "Hormones, Brain, and Behavior" Vol. 3 (D. Pfaff, A. Arnold, A. Etgen, S. Fahrbach, and R. Rubin eds.) pp. 281-315. Academic Press.
  • Belle, E., Beckage, N.E., Rousselet, J., Poirie, M., Lemeunier, F. and Drezen, J.M. 2002. Visualization of polydnavirus sequences in a parasitoid wasp chromosome. J. Virol. 76: 5793-5796.
  • Beckage, N.E., Foreman, R.C., Palmatier, C.M., and Tan, F.F. 2002. Inhibition of the larval ecdysis and emergence behavior of the parasitoid of the parasitoid Cotesia congregata by juvenile hormone. J. Insect Physiol. 48: 725-732.
  • Cole, T.J., Beckage, N.E., Tan, F.F., Srinivasan, A., and Ramaswamy, S.B. 2002. Parasitoid-host endocrine relations: self-reliance or co-optation? Insect Biochem. Molec. Biol. 32: 1673-1679.
  • Beckage, N.E. and Gelman, D.B. 2001. Parasitism of Manduca sexta by Cotesia congregata: A multitude of disruptive endocrine effects. In "Endocrine Interactions of Insect Parasites and Pathogens" (J. Edwards. and R. Weaver, eds.) pp. 59-81. BIOS Scientific Publishers, Oxford.
  • Washburn, J.O., Haas-Stapelton, E.J., Tan, F.F., Beckage, N.E. and Volkman, L.E. 2000. Co-infection of Manduca sexta larvae with polydnavirus of Cotesia congregata increases susceptiblity to fatal infection by Autographa californica M nucleopolyhedrovirus. J. Insect Physiol. 46: 179-190.


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Manuela Martins-Green: Chair of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology
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