Insects, with their exoskeletons, compound eyes, and antennae have always fascinated humans, and served as inspirations for our concepts of alien. In one sense, these divergent lifeforms represent a way to understand how the physico-chemical aspects of the environment shape all; for example similar biomechanical principles can explain wing to body ratios in birds and insects. Yet, we (humans and insects) share a common ancestor 600 million years ago, and about 46% of our gene sequences are identical. The organization of all the major pathways of metabolism (eg. glycolyis, Krebs cycle), as well as transcription and translation are virtually identical in insects and humans. This is one reason why it is so difficult to find insect-specific pesticides. Many fundamental questions about life have first been asked of insects, and later found to apply to all eukaryotes.
Insects are the most ecologically important multicellular heterotrophs in terrestrial systems, play critical roles in ecological food webs, and remain devastating agricultural and medical pests. Millions may exist in a single acre. Insects consume more plant material than any other group, play a major role in the breakdown of organic material, and are the major source of nutrition for many vertebrates. In addition, insects are the most diverse group of eukaryotes in terms of species number. The dominant role of insects among terrestrial heterotrophs arises from a number of key physiological traits, and in particular by the developmental and evolutionary plasticity of these traits. The goal of the Harrison research lab is to advance our understanding of how physiological traits of insects respond to environmental variation.
We are part of the Social Insect Insect Research group, a network of researchers examining this fascinating and important group of organisms.
Some current funded projects in the lab:
2011-2014 National Science Foundation IOS 1122157: Structural and functional scaling of the respiratory system of flying beetles. $625,308.
2011-2012 National Science Foundation IOS-1110796: Dissertation Research: Metabolic and behavioral integration in social insect colonies. James S. Waters and Jon F. Harrison. $14,078.
2010-2012. National Science Foundation OISE-1026182: International DDEP: Grasshopper migration in the Asian steppe: Investigating diet as a cue for developmental polyphenism. Arianne J. Cease, James J. Elser and Jon F. Harrison. $14,988.
2010-2014. National Science Foundation EFRI BSBA: Complex microsystem networks inspired by internal insect physiology (NSF 0938047, $1,992,607. Jake Socha (Virginia Tech, PI), ASU (Harrison) portion of budget: $390,510.