UNIVERSITY PARK – A researcher in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is the recipient of the prestigious 2008 Wolf Prize for Agriculture for his scientific contributions in the field of chemical ecology.
Jim Tumlinson, the Ralph O. Mumma endowed professor of entomology and director of the University’s Center for Chemical Ecology, was honored for his work that, according to the Wolf Foundation, has “fostered the development of integrated pest management and significantly advanced agricultural sustainability.”
A former leader of the Insect Chemistry Research Group at the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in the U.S.Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Tumlinson is the second Penn Stater to win a Wolf Prize. The other was John Almquist, professor emeritus of dairy physiology in the College of Aricultural Sciences, who was honored nearly three decades ago for his contributions in the study of reproductive systems in cattle.
The Wolf Prize is considered the Israeli equivalent of the Nobel Prize. The Israel-based Wolf Foundation was established by the late German-born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist, Ricardo Wolf. Five annual Wolf Prizes of $100,000 in the areas of medicine, agriculture and the arts have been awarded since 1978 to outstanding scientists and artists “for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples, irrespective of nationality, race, color, religion, sex or political view.”
According to the recent announcement by the Wolf Foundation, this year Tumlinson will share the $100,000 Wolf Prize for Agriculture with two other scientists, one in the United States and the other in Britain. Israel’s Education Minister, Yuli Tamir, who chairs the foundation’s council, announced the winners of the prizes, which will be presented by President Shimon Peres at a special ceremony May 25 at the Knesset.
As a chemist interested in biological and agricultural systems, Tumlinson has studied chemicals that affect insect behavior. His laboratory has identified insect pheromones and other “semiochemicals,” investigated the biochemical mechanisms by which chemical signals are produced and released by insects, and studied the behavioral responses, including learned responses, of insects to chemical cues. Recently,
Tumlinson has been investigating the interactions among herbivorous insects, their host plants and their natural enemies. His work has emphasized the development of fundamental knowledge and principles that can be applied in environmentally safe pest-management programs.
“The research recognized by this award was conducted over at least three decades by numerous really excellent students and research associates, and in collaboration with Joe Lewis, a co-recipient of this prize, and other colleagues,” says Tumlinson. “It has been an interdisciplinary team effort. No one person or laboratory alone could have accomplished this.
“I have been lucky to have enjoyed the support and cooperation of a great team of people,” he added. “It is gratifying to receive this award recognizing the contributions of our team toward the development of environmentally sound, sustainable pest-management systems.”
Robert Steele, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, credits Tumlinson with helping to “put Penn State on the map” in chemical ecology. “We absolutely are thrilled to see him get this very prestigious and highly deserved worldwide recognition for his groundbreaking work in this important and exciting area of science,” he said. “Jim Tumlinson is the linchpin in our expanding program in
chemical ecology here at Penn State.”
Tumlinson, who joined Penn State in 2003, earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees in organic chemistry from Mississippi State